Jerusalem overcomes hurdles to advance

With quarantine regulations eased, Hapoel travels to Greece to oust Peristeri in Champions League.

TASHAWN THOMAS (left) and Hapoel Jerusalem advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday night, while Scottie Wilbekin (right) and Maccabi Tel Aviv had their Euroleague campaign suspended due to coronavirus. (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
TASHAWN THOMAS (left) and Hapoel Jerusalem advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday night, while Scottie Wilbekin (right) and Maccabi Tel Aviv had their Euroleague campaign suspended due to coronavirus.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem advanced to the FIBA Basketball Champions League quarterfinals after defeating Peristeri 79-73 in Athens on Wednesday night. But to get to that point, the Reds had quite the challenging week under the shadow of the coronavirus.
The Euroleague, in which Maccabi Tel Aviv plays, as well as the Champions League, which features Jerusalem, were suspended on Thursday while the Israel Basketball Winner League will continue to play this upcoming weekend behind closed doors and with no fans in arenas around the country.
After Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz was reportedly diagnosed with COVID-19, the NBA decided to suspend all games in a move necessary to keep fans and players safe. However, due to the fact that the Jazz were in contact with a number of teams, reporters and personnel over the past week, everyone involved had to go into a 14-day quarantine as well.
Following the NBA’s move, the Euroleague Players Association issued a strong statement asking the Euroleague to take the health and welfare of the players as the top priority and suspend the competition immediately, which the Euroleague did soon thereafter.
In fact, a Real Madrid basketball player was found to be infected by the virus, perhaps speeding up the ultimate decision. FIBA tournaments were also all postponed for the time being as the situation across the basketball world continued to change by the minute.
Changes began last week when Jerusalem hosted Game 1 of its Basketball Champions League round-of-16 playoff series behind closed doors. Oded Katash’s team was about to welcome close to 10,000 fans for the clash against Peristeri, but due to Israel’s Ministry of Health coronavirus regulations limiting spectators to up to 5,000, less than three hours before tip-off Jerusalem management made the decision to not allow supporters at all.
With a surreal atmosphere in Jerusalem’s Pais Arena, where very single bounce of the ball reverberated throughout the stadium, the Reds took care of business by winning 91-78.
The next hurdle Jerusalem faced was hosting Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israeli clasico on Sunday. With the 5,000-fan limit in place, both teams along with the league spoke with Director General of the Health Ministry Dr. Itamar Grotto to find a way to allow more spectators to attend. A decision to allow 9,000 fans – 2,000 seats short of capacity – was implemented with the lower bowl and upper bowl of the arena accommodating up to 4,500 fans in each. In fact, over 8,000 fans came to cheer the teams on as the Reds took the upper hand in a dominating 98-87 win.
Up next for Jerusalem was a trip to Athens for Game 2 Champions League playoff series against Peristeri. This in itself was no easy task.
The club had to get around the newly implemented government rule of 14 days quarantine for anyone coming into the country. Jerusalem would be returning to Israel after the game on Wednesday night and if the players were going to have to go into quarantine they wouldn’t be able to play their league game on Saturday night against Maccabi Rishon Lezion.
Hapoel was given special permission to avoid the isolation regulations by following a strict plan of action that included a number of steps in order to satisfy the Ministry of Health.
The first step was for the Reds to fly on an empty Aegean Airlines flight to Athens that just consisted of the team and essential personnel. Once at the airport, a private bus picked up the team up and took it directly to the hotel, where the players would be isolated on their own floor with a private dining room for meals.
From there, the team was only able leave the hotel for the game at Peristeri’s arena, a small facility that would normally hold 3,000 fans but due to Greek regulations would be without any for the contest. Following the game, Jerusalem headed back to Israel and was not required to face the 14-day quarantine like any other person returning to the country.
Spanish club Baskonia had to follow almost the identical plan when it arrived in Israel for the Euroleague game on Thursday night against Maccabi Tel Aviv, which was ultimately postponed. However, the bus carrying the squad couldn’t get into the narrow street where the team hotel was located and the players and coaching staff needed to walk a block to the entrance. By doing that, they ended up bumping into a number of pedestrians on the way which certainly wasn’t part of the Health Ministry’s plan.
For a typical Euroleague game, Maccabi Tel Aviv would have close to 11,000 fans in the stands, but once the government reduced the amount of gatherings to 5,000, the club held a first-come, first-serve ticket allocation to season-ticket holders, with those not receiving for the upcoming game being placed first in line for the next matchup the following week against Zenit St. Petersburg.
However, the limit was then moved to just 2,000 people on Tuesday and then to 100 on Wednesday, making it virtually impossible for the yellow-and-blue to have any spectators cheering the club on for a crucial continental clash.
The 100-person limit moved all sporting events taking place in Israel to be without fans and behind closed doors.
With uncertainty throughout not only the sports world, but around the globe in every facet of life, everyone’s thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the virus with the hope that we can all get back to enjoying sports, and more importantly our lives, as soon as possible.
Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents (www.sportsrabbi.com). Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi at [email protected]