Life lessons learned from Tomer Ginat choosing Hapoel Tel Aviv over Maccabi

The power forward was able to hone his skills on a larger stage that included both the local LNB League and the EuroCup.

Tomer Ginat will be back playing on Israeli courts after two years abroad. The 27-year-old forward entertained offers from both Tel Aviv teams in the offseason and chose a return to Hapoel over a move to Maccabi. (photo credit: Dov Halickman)
Tomer Ginat will be back playing on Israeli courts after two years abroad. The 27-year-old forward entertained offers from both Tel Aviv teams in the offseason and chose a return to Hapoel over a move to Maccabi.
(photo credit: Dov Halickman)

Tomer Ginat left Oded Katash and Maccabi Tel Aviv empty-handed at the altar as arguably the top Israeli available this offseason decided to spurn the yellow-and-blue’s offer and instead return to his first love, Hapoel Tel Aviv.

The power forward, who played the last two seasons in France with Metropolitans after spending 2016-20 with Hapoel, was able to hone his skills on a larger stage that included both the local LNB League and also the EuroCup.

Ginat performed admirably as he continued to improve and could have easily stayed in Europe and signed with a EuroCup club or in one of the bigger leagues such as the ACB in Spain. But he decided to go with his heart and elected to come home to the Holy Land in a decision that rocked the local basketball landscape as well as making a number of strong statements.

No. 1: No amount of money can buy love.

No. 2: Hapoel Tel Aviv is going to be a serious player in Israeli basketball.

No. 3: Maccabi Tel Aviv can no longer grab any Sabra that it wants.

 TOMER GINAT was Israel's best player over the home-and-home series with Germany, which saw the blue-and-white lose both games to fall to 2-2 in World Cup qualifying. (credit: FIBA COURTESY) TOMER GINAT was Israel's best player over the home-and-home series with Germany, which saw the blue-and-white lose both games to fall to 2-2 in World Cup qualifying. (credit: FIBA COURTESY)

Breaking the glass

Bar Timor may have cracked the glass a bit when he decided to stay with Hapoel Jerusalem and made a 180-degree turn at the absolute last minute, but Ginat broke it for good.

It was clear Ginat had a massive decision to make when a team like Maccabi came knocking on his door and opened up the suitcase full of greenbacks, or in this case Shekels.

You’ve got to listen and you’ve got to listen long and hard and keep an open mind, whatever your thoughts are about potentially putting on the yellow-and-blue jersey despite never having been remotely associated with the club.

Especially a powerhouse club like Maccabi Tel Aviv, looked at as the evil empire. Similar to the New York Yankees.

Maccabi can offer any Israeli the world in terms of basketball potential. You want to play Euroleague? Check. How about having usually the best chance to win a league title or State Cup? Check, check. Being able to have access to the best professional staff? Check. A chance to become a historical and mythical figure for the Maccabi fans? Check yet again.

But, to stay with your love, to play for your love and to go with your heart instead of perhaps your mind is admirable, exciting, scary and passionate all wrapped up in one.

Ginat left plenty of cold hard cash on the table to the tune of $150,000 per year if what has been reported is accurate. That’s a lot of moolah. That is where the mind comes in because the decision – if viewed from a purely financial perspective – made absolutely no sense, and as Spock from Star Trek would explain is “illogical.”

But illogical is what Israel as a country is all about. It’s illogical that we are here as a people after so many years in the Diaspora. It’s illogical that we have become the greatest Start-Up Nation in the world and it’s illogical that we have been able to withstand constant threats and attacks year after year, decade after decade.

I can understand where Tomer Ginat is coming from as I made an illogical decision 18 years ago to leave the life that I had built together with my wife in New York City and move to Israel in the middle of the second intifada with no family and very few friends in the Holy Land.

But our hearts were here in Israel while our bodies were in the United States. We gave up good, solid jobs and being close to our families for a dream, for our love and for a more wholesome one.

Almost two decades later I can say that this was the best decision I had ever made, as illogical and as risky as it was. Love is stronger than anything else.

One day, Ginat will hopefully be able to look back at this decision and say to himself, his family and his loved ones that this was the best thing that he had done.

Signing with Hapoel Tel Aviv is certainly a risk and inking a five-year deal is an even bigger one for a club that has only been back in the top league since 2012 and does not have the financial backing like some of the other teams do, whether it is from an ownership or advertising, sponsorship standpoint.

The TA Reds will need to field a competitive team that can play in the EuroCup, which will be 18 games at a higher level than the Israeli league, and add depth, which will cost more money as well.

Ginat will sell tickets and that will help make ends meet, but Hapoel will still need to put up a fairly large budget in order to be “in it to win it.”

Will the Reds be able to afford a squad that can play top-level basketball? That’s a question that may need to be answered over the length of the five-year contract and not in the first season.

Of course, Hapoel won’t need a budget the size of city-rival Maccabi’s, but it will still need to make sure that it has its finances in place to surround Ginat with players that can play at the level that would be expected.

As easy as it sounds, that is no small order.

But the fact that the Reds are making this step – a bold one – is good news for Israeli basketball.

And speaking of Maccabi Tel Aviv, the fact that the glass has now been broken, there may be no way back. In the past, when the yellow-and-blue wanted a player, it got the player. It paid its players well, it paid what it had to in order to get its man.

Those days, however, seem to be over.

Those were the days that Maccabi had the best of the best. If you were a top Israeli prospect, you were on Maccabi’s roster no matter what. If you were brought up and developed with another club, Maccabi would come calling.

But that has not been the case in recent history and, as we have seen now, may be ancient history. It’s back to the drawing board for Maccabi Tel Aviv.

While Ginat left the yellow-and-blue at the altar for his family in red, Israeli basketball is all the much better for it.

To see a player, any person really, go with their heart says a tremendous amount. It speaks to the fact that money isn’t everything in this world, and that’s certainly a message worth emphasizing.

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]