Greatest Sporting Moments of 2008

When team spirit broke a hegemony.

hapoel holon champions  (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
hapoel holon champions
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
As a neutral, I had arrived at the Nokia Arena on the evening of May 29 hoping to see an upset in the final of the Israeli basketball championship when Hapoel Holon faced the might of Maccabi Tel Aviv. But like the majority of those present in the cathedral of Israeli hoops, as well as thousands of fans watching at home, I had never expected it, and wasn't even sure I really wanted it. Over the long season Hapoel Holon had become the team you loved to hate. It was the team with the aggressive fans, one of which had blown off a Hapoel Jerusalem security guard's fingers when he threw a firecracker on to the court at Malha the previous November. But it was also the team which embodied a sporting spirit, players with an us against them, never say die attitude who had found themselves on the cusp of historyy. Maccabi had won the league title every year since 1993 and, even though it had had a shaky season, looked extremely unlikely to give up its crown. Even when Malik Dixon picked up the ball with only a few seconds left and his team losing 72-71 there was a feeling of inevitability in the arena. I was sure Dixon would miss his shot and Maccabi would claim the title as usual. The way I was proved wrong and the outpouring of emotion and celebration which followed made Dixon's basket my favorite sporting moment of the past 12 months. The 32-year-old former Galatasary player told me after the game that he had no doubts in his mind as he drove down the lane and lobbed the ball over Tel Aviv's Alex Garcia and into the basket. There was no time for Maccabi to come back and the shot stunned not only the team in yellow and blue but the entire Israeli basketball community. There was near pandemonium in the Holon dressing room after the game, but instead of popping open champagne the players only had bottles of water to shake up and pour over each other. It was as if the team's management had also never expected the win so didn't bother planning for a real celebration. While financial issues unfortunately forced the breakup of the triumphant Holon team, the championship victory changed the attitude of all involved in Israeli basketball. Teams accross the country can now truly believe that the league title is up for grabs after Holon proved it does not belong to Maccabi by right.