Maccabi Tel Aviv marks iconic 1977 title

Brody, Berkovich & Co. reminisce about Euroleague championship that put Israeli hoops ‘on the map’

Picture of Tal Brody on Maccabi Tel Aviv in 1977  (photo credit: YAAKOV SAAR/GPO)
Picture of Tal Brody on Maccabi Tel Aviv in 1977
(photo credit: YAAKOV SAAR/GPO)
This month brings the 43rd anniversary of Maccabi Tel Aviv celebrating its first European Championship back in 1977. With a 78-77 win over Mobilgirgi Varese from Italy, as well as a key 91-79 victory over CSKA Moscow, the yellow-and-blue captured the imagination of Israelis and Jews worldwide as Tal Brody hoisted the trophy high in the air and declared that Israel was “on the map, and we are staying on the map – not only in sports, but in everything.”
To commemorate the occasion, a number of players from including Brody, Miki Berkovich, Lou Silver, Aulcie Perry, Shuki Schwartz and others got together via Zoom with hundreds of fans to reminisce about their historic victory over the Russian Red Army team and the season that was during the height of the Cold War.
The player who was most significant in helping Maccabi reach the heights of winning a European Championship and changing the culture of a country was Brody, explained club chairman Shimon Mizrachi.
“Back in those days, Tal had been with the American Army Team in Belgrade. We had to convince him to come to Israel and play with Maccabi, which of course he did. As they say, he changed the map. Children had been growing up playing soccer and tennis, but when Tal arrived those same children started to play basketball. He changed the viewpoint of a generation of youngsters.”
Winning the European Championship was bigger than winning the NBA title, as Tal Brody recalled what the great Portland Trailblazer-turned-TV-personality Bill Walton had told him.
“I played together with Bill Walton for the United States at the 1970 World Championship when we beat the Russian team,” said Brody. “But it was nothing like winning for Israel with Maccabi in Vitron, Belgium, when we beat the Russians. Bill said the same when he won the NBA title with Portland in 1977, it didn’t compare to me winning the European championship.”
Silver, another one of the US natives that came to play in Israel also spoke about what beating the Red Army team meant.
“As an American you always dream of winning an NBA championship. But for the Americans on Maccabi, to beat the Russians had much more impact that could never compare to winning the NBA title.”
“I tried to get into the NBA, but it just didn’t work and I felt that my career was over,” noted Perry, who still lives in Israel.
“Maccabi’s team manager Samuel ‘Shamluke’ Mahrovsky met me and said that Maccabi needed a player for just six games of the first round, and I told him I needed a team for a whole year. He said if you play well in those six games then another team would pick me up.
“But then we made it past the first round and I stayed with the team. We came up against the Russians and no one believed that we would be able to beat them and win the European Cup. But we did and it was the highlight of my career. There is no team that I could have gone to where I would have had the results that I did, that is what made Maccabi so special.”
One of Israel’s greatest players, Berkovich reflected on how playing for Maccabi had been a dream and that the chemistry of the players played a key part in the club’s success.
“Playing for Maccabi was a dream come true for any child growing up in Israel. I watched Tal Brody play when I was younger and when I joined the team he taught me that at Maccabi you have to win and win and win. We made a dream come true by beating the Russians.
“Coming together to do what we did in 1977 was like each one of us being a piece of Lego. My birthday wish right before the game against the USSR on February 17 was that I wanted all of the people of Israel to remember that February 17 would be the day that we beat the Russians. And we did.”
Schwartz also chimed in about the togetherness being the secret to success of the squad.
“The one great thing about our team was teamwork,” said Schwartz. “In every organization it’s a matter of building the right team and you need to know how to play together. Each player on the team was a winner, but when it comes to playing together, that was our secret. Most of us were friends both on and off of the court and even today we meet and see each other. We are really friends. That was our secret.”
However, reaching the pinnacle was not as easy as it sounded as the yellow-and-blue had to get by a number of stumbling blocks that were placed in their way, as Brody pointed out.
“We had lost to Varese by a huge margin the previous round before the final and no one believed that we could make up the difference between the clubs, but we were able to do that. Moshe Dayan came to encourage us and off we went to play Varese in the final in Belgrade. Italian Basketball during those days were at the top of European basketball.
But by winning the championship we were able to show that we as a country could do more. Whether it was being able to win a medal at the Olympic Games when Yael Arad won a silver in Barcelona [ in 1992] and then having the national anthem, Hatikvah, being played in Abu Dhabi [in 2019, when 17-year-old Alon Leviev took gold in the junior category at the Ju-jitsu World Championship], shows that we as a people can be very proud and continue to achieve more and more in Israeli sports.”
“We understood the magnitude of the victory for Israel,” Berkovich continued. “If Varese would have won the game, they would have been happy, the fans would read the newspapers the next day and then move on. But if we won, everyone in Israel and friends of our country around the world would be happy as well. To this day, because of the win we are ambassadors for Israel and showed that we can excel in all fields, including that of sport.”