Local hoops: Hapoel J'lem honored at Beit Hanassi

Only after Hapoel won this year's triumph did it receive an invitation to Beit Hanassi.

hapoel jlem win 298.88 (photo credit: Hapoel Jerusalem website)
hapoel jlem win 298.88
(photo credit: Hapoel Jerusalem website)
State Cup winner Hapoel Jerusalem has won the honor twice before, in 1996 and 1997, as well as the ULEB Cup in 2004, but it was only after this year's triumph that it received an invitation to Beit Hanassi. Considering the fact that Acting President Dalia Itzik is a native Jerusalemite and a former deputy mayor of the city, and that members of her immediate family are dyed-in-the-wool Hapoel fans, it's hardly surprising that Itzik chose to honor the team on Tuesday. "I can't say too much about how proud I am of you, because in this position I'm supposed to be objective," she said. "This the first time you've been invited here. I have a feeling it won't be the last." Itzik was wearing a red jacket, albeit not in the same shade as the bright red of Hapoel. "I chose something in yellow when I was getting dressed," she admitted, without saying why she had changed. Recalling the recent title game in which Hapoel Jerusalem trounced Bnei Sharon, Itzik said: "What a phenomenal crowd of fans you've got." She had special words of praise for Hapoel Chairman Danny Klein, who she said is not just a chairman, but an educator. As someone who was a teacher before entering politics, Itzik said that she could appreciate what Klein has done toward transforming Hapoel Jerusalem into more than just a sports team. If anyone deserved a trophy for what they had invested in time, effort and devotion, she said, it was Klein. Itzik also singled out coach, Dan Shamir, who she noted was a Jerusalemite. This is Shamir's first season as head coach and Itzik said she was sure that winning the cup had given him, the team and Hapoel fans an appetite for even greater victories. Klein also said Hapoel Jerusalem was more than a team or a sports club. It stands for coexistence without discrimination, he said. It attracts youth from all sectors of Jerusalem, and from their ranks will come the next generation of basketball players. It also engages in social welfare activities, reaching out to bereaved families and to sick children, he said. Hapoel Jerusalem is a source of national pride, Klein said, doing a lot to change negative perceptions of Israel in Europe. "Through us, people see Jerusalem not just as a city of terror, but as a city of sport," he said. Klein thanked Hapoel President Arkadi Gaydamak for the tremendous support he had given the team. Gaydamak's cash infusions paid to acquire new players whose talents were largely responsible for Hapoel's triumph. Klein invited Itzik to come next Tuesday to watch the team host FMP Zeleznik of Belgrade in the first leg of the ULEB Cup quarterfinals. Gaydamak said he was very proud of the team's achievement, noting that its performance had helped promote Jerusalem both in Israel and abroad. He presented Itzik with a basketball that had been autographed by the team. When everyone assembled for a photograph with the acting president, the diminutive Itzik remained seated so that the difference in height between her and the hoopsters would be less obvious. Besieged by reporters, Hapoel Jerusalem captain Meir Tapiro was cautious about predicting the outcome of the game against Zeleznik. "They're a very good team," he said. "If they're ahead halfway through the game, it will put pressure on us. If we're ahead, it will put pressure on them."