Israel's top sportsman: Miki Berkowitz

Maccabi Tel Aviv hoops legend heads The Jerusalem Post's 60 sporting heroes list.

miki berkowitz 88 (photo credit: )
miki berkowitz 88
(photo credit: )
Two months after we first began counting down The Jerusalem Post's list of the 60 greatest Israeli sporting heroes of the last 60 years, we can finally announce which superstar has been chosen to hold the coveted number one spot. Soccer may be the most popular spectator sport in the country, but it is in basketball that Israel and Israeli clubs have excelled. And there has never been a winner on the level of Miki Berkowitz. From his breakout season in 1977, when he was part of the famous Maccabi Tel Aviv team which won the club its first European cup, to his later years in the late 1980s, Berkowitz played with a panache and excitement which summed up all that is good about Israel. He was a winner with heart. A player who knew the significance of playing on a team which, essentially, represented the still-fledgling Israeli nation on the world stage. Berkowitz's numerous achievements included winning 16 national championships and 12 State Cups in 16 years with Maccabi, and helping Israel finish second behind the Soviet Union in the 1979 European championship. After winning the 1977 European Cup with Maccabi by beating Mobilbigi Varese 78-77, Berkowitz became the linchpin of the side which went on to win the title again in 1981. Last weekend at the Euroleague Final Four in Madrid Berkowitz was honored as one of the top 50 greatest contributors to European basketball. During the Euroleague's annual gala reception on Saturday night he took a moment to look back on his career. "I won the first European Cup with Maccabi almost 30 years ago but it feels to me like it's only two years ago," Berkowitz told the Post. "It was the most important, the sweetest one, especially because we played the mighty CSKA Moscow in the semifinal and won." The 54-year-old thanked the Post for choosing him. "I am proud that I've been chosen to be the best sportsman in Israel," he said. "It gives you a great feeling. "At the beginning you start to play ball as a kid. You love the game and want to be the best and want to join Maccabi. "To still have my achievements recognized after so many years feels great, so thank you to the Jerusalem Post." Asked how the current Maccabi team compares to the one he played in, Berkowitz said the game has changed quite significantly. "It's a different strategy. When we played we had eight local Israeli players," he noted. "Now it's more professional on court and off the court. But the title is the same. It's still Maccabi Tel Aivv, the greatest club in Israel." The list of the top 60 sporting personalities has included some wonderful well-known names, and some lesser known sportsmen. But all had that special quality of being a winner. Olympic gold medalist Gal Fridman came in at number three, soccer star Yossi Benayoun at number 12 and paralympic swimmer Keren Liebowitz at number 20. From enigmatic basketball great Doron Sheffer at number 35, through coach David Blatt at number 51 through to number 60, the walker Shaul Ladany, we salute you all. Berkowitz's teammate and mentor Tal Brody was placed at number four. "I feel very proud Miki is the guy I passed the keys on to to carry on," Brody told the Post on Tuesday of the guard who took over his position in the Maccabi team. "Miki was basically a protege and always played under me during the years he played at Maccabi." Recalling Berkowitz as a player, Brody added: "He had the capabilities to be a scorer, to play the game all around Israel and, after winning the European Cup in 1977, take the team forward. "Miki was was quick, able to steal the ball on defense and move against any defender. He was serious about the game and loved to learn."