Love him or hate him, Mizrahi is Israel's Mr. Basketball

Sinai Says Love him or

In 61 years of Israeli sports no man has been equally loved and hated as much as legendary Maccabi Tel Aviv chairman Shimon Mizrahi. It was some 40 years ago that Mizrahi turned from a fan into a part-owner of Maccabi, transforming the club and Israeli sports as a whole. Mizrahi's overwhelming success attained him god-like status among the yellow-and-blue support, but for many other basketball fans he is the personification of the devil himself. Maccabi was Israel's most successful basketball club before Mizrahi took charge, but in the summer of 1969 it nevertheless went bankrupt. Just two years earlier, the club had reached the final of the European Cup Winners Cup, and it had also won the championship in 10 of the first 15 years of the Israeli league's existence. However, Maccabi was being run poorly to say the least, so a group of fans decided to save their beloved club and named a then-29-year-old attorney to lead the move. Mizrahi, who will celebrate his 70th birthday on Friday, quickly became the chairman, a position he still holds to this day. He then set his sights on revolutionizing Maccabi, turning it into the country's first professionally run club. Before Mizrahi had come along the team played its games in an open court and anybody interested could just walk in and watch Israel's top basketball side for free. Within months, Maccabi had rebuilt the court, and in November 1969 the club charged an entrance fee for the first time. Mizrahi then used his contacts and brought in the Elite confectionery company as a sponsor, a business relationship which lasted until 2008. Maccabi's rivals fell by the wayside, with many of them still being run today as they were 40 years ago. As a result the club conquered almost all of its opponents in Israel and soon also became a force to be reckoned with in Europe. A run of 23 consecutive championships (1970-1992) and the European titles in 1977 and 1981 cemented the club's status as "Israel's team", but it is this extreme dominance, which has made Mizrahi the subject of hate for so many. In a way, Mizrahi has become the victim of his own success, being targeted for abuse for doing all he can to make sure Maccabi always wins. As far as he's concerned, the greater good of Israeli basketball always comes second to Maccabi, but it is still difficult to begrudge him for his boundless commitment to the club. He may have played a part in sapping the competitiveness out of Israeli basketball, but the main culprits in the demise of the sport are his inept colleagues who, down the years, have failed time and again to emulate any of Mizrahi's achievements on or off the court. There may be an argument regarding Mizrahi's route to success, but there is no questioning his remarkable achievements. Maccabi fans hail him as the king, while other supporters distastefully call him to commit suicide. However, his lovers and haters alike will agree that Israeli sports will not be the same when he eventually decides to call it a day. For the only thing Mizrahi is guilty of is being obsessed with seeing his team win, and that is something every sports can relate to and appreciate.