Pride and disappointment after Maccabi Haifa finishes second

With the success, came the bitter pill of coming so close to taking a title but ending up the loser.

ido kozikaro 88 (photo credit: )
ido kozikaro 88
(photo credit: )
In most cases there is near-total silence in the locker room of the team which loses the championship game, as the players and staff come to terms with their failure to take the title. But on Thursday, as the dust settled on what, by all accounts, had been a superb season for the Maccabi Haifa Heat, there was a strange mixture of disappointment and pride in the team camp. On the one hand the newly-promoted Haifa had exceeded expectations by getting to both February's State Cup final and Thursday's BSL championship game. But, with the success, came the bitter pill of coming so close to taking a title but ending up the loser in both games - 85-72 to Tel Aviv in the league final on Thursday after leading by 12 points in the first half, and 69-68 to Hapoel Holon in the cup final on a last -gasp Brian Tolbert three-pointer. One player who had so hoped to come out on top in the BSL final was 34-year-old guard Malik Dixon, the man who scored the winning shot for Holon in the 2008 BSL title game. Dixon only joined the Heat in March and was initially unable to show the form that made him an instant cult hero in Holon last year. However, over the three months his performances picked up and he shone for Maccabi in the semifinal win over Hapoel Jerusalem. "It always hurts to lose in a big game, but we fought hard to get here. It feels hard to lose but in basketball you win some you lose some. They outplayed us tonight and they deserved to win," Dixon told The Jerusalem Post. Since it was bought by American millionaire Jeff Rosen in the summer of 2007 and had the word "Heat" added to its name, Maccabi Haifa has quickly become one of the most recognizable names in Israeli hoops. Last season it won promotion to the top division in a playoff against Netanya and this year coach Avi Ashkenazi returned to Haifa after a number of years away from the club. "It is a great disappointment," Ashkenazi said, with the sounds of Queen's "We are the Champions," which had been playing on the court a few minutes earlier when Tel Aviv received the championship plate, seemingly ringing in his ears. "It hurts to have a feeling of missing out. We could have [won it] and we needed to play better… But I am proud of the team and the players." Having spent the best part of two hours screaming encouragement at the team, Rosen could hardly speak after the game. However he made it clear that he intends to continue backing Haifa and Ashkenazi will continue as coach next season. Describing the season as "a dream come true," Rosen said: "We hope to return here next season."