It wasn't just his titles, but the way he played the game

It's no coincidence Miki Berkowitz has topped every list of Israel's top sportsmen in the last 20 years.

miki berkowitz 224 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
miki berkowitz 224 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It's no coincidence Miki Berkowitz has topped every list of Israel's top sportsmen assembled in the last 20 years. Berkowitz is quite simply the ultimate Israeli athlete and it's hard to see him not coming first in similar lists in 10 years time, or even when the country celebrates its 100th birthday. The 54-year-old Berkowitz was to Israeli basketball what Michael Jordan was to the NBA. Not only was he the greatest to ever play the game, but he transcended his sport in a manner never achieved before or since. It's not the titles or the points amassed by Berkowitz which make him so special. It's the way in which he played the game and the style with which he represented his club and country. Talented, tenacious and smart, Berkowitz made the most of all his gifts and cemented his place not only in Israeli sports history, but in Israeli culture as well. But more than anything, Berkowitz is simply the greatest winner Israeli sport has ever seen. His role in Maccabi's European triumphs in 1977 and 1981 and in his 165 appearances for the national team are often recalled, but for me his display on November 26, 1987 summed up best what Berkowitz is all about. Berkowitz was 34-years-old and in his final season at Maccabi. He had already been relegated to the team's bench the previous season by upcoming coach Tzvika Sherf, but despite being in the twilight of his career he still had one more winning performance left in him. The mighty Barcelona came to the Yad Eliyahu Arena and opened a two-point halftime lead, with Berkowitz failing to score in the first half. Berkowitz finally got on the board at the start of the second half and, with just over five minutes to play, hit two three-pointers in quick succession to bring the hosts within two points. The Catalans surged ahead once more and opened a promising 107-100 lead with two-and-a-half minutes to go. All seemed lost, but Berkowitz, who ended the game with 18 points, managed to muster one more heroic display, scoring six of his side's final eight points, including two clutch free throws to win the game. "How you respond to the challenge in the second half will determine what you become after the game, whether you are a winner or a loser," legendry college football coach Lou Holtz once said. I think we can safely say that Berkowitz was not only a winner, but a sportsman of the stature which Israel will be lucky to ever see again.