Sports: Blatt landslide choice as top Israeli in 2014

Miraculous Euroleague run with Mac TA and even more impressive move to NBA as coach of LeBron and Cavaliers boosts only non-athlete finalist over Gerbi, Sanford and Zahavi.

Cleveland Cavaliers coach and former Maccabi boss David Blatt (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Cleveland Cavaliers coach and former Maccabi boss David Blatt
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
When David Blatt entered 2014, he had every reason to be optimistic.
After all, he was in the midst of a 17-game winning streak at Maccabi Tel Aviv, one which may very well have saved his job at the club.
At the time, avoiding the sack from Maccabi was quite an achievement.
Blatt, or anyone else for that matter, couldn’t have imagined the incredible manner in which the rest of his year would unfold. A year which began with a mustwin Euroleague road game in Turkey and will end with Blatt guiding the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving when the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Milwaukee Bucks on New Year’s Eve.
It should therefore be of little surprise that Blatt brushed aside all competition on the way to being selected as The Jerusalem Post Israeli Sports Personality of the Year.
The 55-year-old Boston native, who moved to Israel over 30 years ago, follows in the footsteps of previous winners: Judoka Yarden Gerbi (2013), Paralympic gold medalist Noam Gershony (2012), windsurfer Lee Korzits (2011), Shahar Pe’er (2007, 2010), Omri Casspi (2009) and Paralympic swimmer Inbal Pezaro (2008).
With more than 250 votes cast by the readers, Blatt took home a whopping 91 percent of the tally to edge out Gerbi, sprinter Donald Sanford and soccer player Eran Zahavi for the prestigious award.
“I just want to say that I’m honored and that I’m appreciative that people would recognize the work and achievements,” Blatt told The Jerusalem Post this week.
Maccabi had lost four of its first nine local league games for the first time in club history last season and there were suggestions that perhaps it was time to part ways with Blatt.
The winning streak that began at the start of December and ended over seven weeks later ended that ridiculous notion, but Maccabi fans were scarcely optimistic following four consecutive losses over all competitions during 12 days in late March, just two weeks before the start of the Euroleague quarterfinal playoffs.
What would follow will forever be etched in the history of the illustrious club. After beating Olimpia Milano 3-1 in the playoffs, including a crucial victory in Game 1 after trailing by 12 points with two minutes to play, the yellow-and-blue stunned CSKA Moscow in the Final Four semis.
An inexplicable turnover by Moscow’s Victor Khryapa allowed Tyrese Rice to score the winning basket with 5.5 seconds to play.
Anyone who watched the final against Real Madrid will never forget how Maccabi outfought what was regarded as the best team in Europe to force overtime before outplaying the Los Blancos in the extra period to claim a sixth European crown in club history, its first after nine years.
Blatt had finally won the Euroleague title as a head coach and Maccabi clinched the BSL championship by the skin of its teeth the following month to complete a treble.
The first six months of the year alone would have made Blatt a top candidate for Israeli sports personality of the year, but there was plenty more to come.
A day after winning the league title, Blatt announced that he was leaving Maccabi to coach in the NBA, even though he had yet to sign a deal with any team.
He spent the following days interviewing for the Cleveland Cavaliers head coaching position and in a development that stunned the NBA he was handed the job on June 20, making Blatt not only the first Israeli to coach in the NBA, but also the first to make the leap from Europe to the NBA as a head coach.
Three weeks later, Blatt changed from being a coach of a struggling Eastern Conference team to the coach of an NBA title contender when superstar LeBron James announced he was returning to the Cavs.
“I didn’t have a very specific set of expectations [coming into the NBA] because I really came with an open mind and a mind for learning,” Blatt said. “What was expected was that I would have a lot to learn and what was unexpected was how much I had to learn.”
Considering the addition of James and Love to a roster which already included All-Star Irving, Blatt and his team got the season off to a rocky start. Cleveland lost three of its first four games and seven of its first 12, before steadying the ship with an eight-game winning streak.
Blatt admitted to still being “in the process” although insisted that he is “certainly able and capable of working” while still learning.
The hectic schedule, the lack of practice time and the necessity of doing things in a different way in terms of preparation were three of the main adjustments Blatt said he had to make. However, he was adamant that life in the NBA was “not at all overwhelming” but rather “very exciting and exhilarating.”
“I’ve always felt that if you have a path and process and passion to try and achieve your goals than you can always make it through the bumps in the road and ultimately reach what you want to reach,” he explained.
Blatt misses Israel “very much” but at the same time he says he is “very happy to be where I am in Cleveland and sort of re-experience my roots in America.”
He said it was impossible to rank all the highlights of the past year and wouldn’t elaborate on his long-term expectations with the Cavs.
“I’m just focused on helping us be the best team that we can be.
Understanding it is a new situation for everyone involved and that we have a lot of work to do but a lot of possibilities,” he said “I believe that you have to have short term and long term goals, but you really have to do the work and overcome the challenges in front of you,” he said. “Looking too far ahead is generally counterproductive.”
When asked whether 2015 can somehow eclipse a remarkable 2014 Blatt didn’t shy away from an answer.
“Hope runs eternal,” he said with a smile.