The legacy of outgoing Maccabi Tel Aviv stalwart Nikola Vujcic

Nikola Vujcic, who won two EuroLeague titles with Maccabi Tel Aviv as a player, has stepped down from his role as general manager/sports director.

 NIKOLA VUJCIC has been a loyal soldier for Maccabi Tel Aviv, as both a player and in various managerial roles. (photo credit: Dov Halickman)
NIKOLA VUJCIC has been a loyal soldier for Maccabi Tel Aviv, as both a player and in various managerial roles.
(photo credit: Dov Halickman)

Just as Maccabi Tel Aviv head coach Oded Katash finished off his post-game press conference after the recent loss to Barcelona, the assembled media members were notified to stay in place and not leave as there would be something special to follow.

As one of the yellow-and-blue greats Nikola Vujcic entered the room in stoic fashion and sat down at the dais just after the ownership group had taken their places in the first row, it was clear what the 6-foot-11 former EuroLeague star and general manager/sports director’s announcement was going to be – after roughly a decade in the role he would be taking a break and stepping down from the position.

This should come as no surprise as the Croatian great, who won two EuroLeague titles with Maccabi Tel Aviv as a player and then one more while in the front office, has been alone in Israel since the summer after his wife and children either moved back home or to other locations in Europe.

Vujcic has been the topic of much discussion throughout the Maccabi-verse – both for the good and not so good. On the one hand, he made his mark working with management to build roster after roster, year by year, however the team didn’t quite reach the on-court success that he himself would have wanted to.

  MACCABI TEL AVIV players celebrate on the court with the trophy following their 88-84 overtime victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Winner Cup final (credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN) MACCABI TEL AVIV players celebrate on the court with the trophy following their 88-84 overtime victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Winner Cup final (credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN)

Vujcic was always patient, respectful and honorable in his role and those traits should very much be revered. Sure, there were times when everyone would have liked to have heard him speak more about the successes and failures that he was part of in his role, and there were plenty of both. But ultimately and most importantly, he was loyal to his employers and his relationship with ownership is what matters most, not how he ended up relating to the fans and media.

Fans had tried numerous times to oust Vujcic and pressure him to depart, but each and every time, he became even more emboldened by his standing within the club and the support of the team owners.

There were plenty of Israel league titles and State Cups that were won on his watch and there were numerous ones that were lost. Vujcic was in charge of putting together the roster of players, along with the head coach, of which there were plenty during his time. There were some hits and plenty of misses along the way.

Of course, the only way that the Maccabi fan views things is through the pure yellow-and-blue glasses of victories and defeats. Maccabi clearly could have done better.

But in today’s day and age, where there are so many other factors involved, ownership and management felt that Vujcic was doing the job and doing it well enough to keep him in the position. Ultimately the buck stops with them.Vujcic will be around for the duration of the season and the club will most probably look internally as to who will take the baton from him. This will most probably be a combination of David Blatt, who is already in an advisory role and the head of scouting Avi Even, who ended last season on the bench in place of Sfairopoulos.

Could Guy Pnini be groomed to take over such a role over time? That is definitely a possibility but most probably he will be behind the bench as part of the coaching staff first.

What will be Vujcic's lasting legacy with the yellow-and-blue? That is yet to be determined because there is still a long season ahead and with Maccabi at 4-3 with two Euroleague losses in a row, the pressure has begun to mount on Oded Katash.

A game against his former coach, the legendary Zeljko Obradovic and Partizan Belgrade, is on tap for Friday night which will be followed by a home derby versus Hapoel Tel Aviv, a EuroLeague contest against powerhouse Olympiacos, then another trip to Serbia to play Red Star and an Israeli classico with Hapoel Jerusalem to polish off the month.

That is not an easy road. Over the next few weeks, perhaps Vujcic will have one more move to make before he heads off into the yellow-and-blue sunset.