Sinai Says: A joy to watch who will be sorely missed

Nikola Vujcic's contribution to Maccabi Tel Aviv over the years is quite simply immeasurable.

maccabi ta 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
maccabi ta 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Nikola Vujcic's contribution to Maccabi Tel Aviv over the years is quite simply immeasurable. Strange as this may sound, Vujcic was underrated, despite being recognized by Maccabi as one of its greatest ever players. He may not have Saras's charisma or Anthony Parker's breathtaking play, but without Vujcic, Maccabi would have never won the 2004 and 2005 European titles. The Croatian was literally the pivot of perhaps Tel Aviv's greatest ever team. Coach Pini Gershon's exquisite attacking side could only have played the way it did with a man of Vujcic's basketball intelligence at its center. Ego was never a factor for the 30-year-old, who was not only Europe's best passing center, but one of the continent's better distributors of the ball overall. Vujcic's contribution to Maccabi, however, was just as immense off-court as it was on it. The Croatian made a rare connection with the club's fans and became a yellow-and-blue through and through in his six seasons at the club. "Vujcic is an extraordinary individual, both in skill and in character," Maccabi chairman Shimon Mizrahi said at a special press conference held in Vujcic's honor on Tuesday. "This is one of my saddest moments at the club." So why then is Maccabi not extending Vujcic's contract? Well, there are two main reasons and at first sight both seem to make quite a bit of sense. The first is that Vujcic was out with an injury throughout most of the season and the second is that he was also due a big salary raise ahead of next year. "Unfortunately, Vujcic is being offered amounts Maccabi can simply not afford," part-owner David Federman said on Tuesday. What Maccabi will found out soon enough, however, is that Vujcic's contribution is nothing short of priceless and that he's worth every extra shekel. The club's management will regret not forking out the money needed to keep the Croatian at the Nokia Arena, especially when considering how much Vujcic wants to remain in Israel. "I came here as a 23-year-old and I fell in love with the club at first sight. Maccabi is my family," an emotional Vujcic said on Tuesday. "This is not goodbye. I will find a way to come back here. It's just a matter of time. "I had an unbelievable six years at Maccabi, the best years of my life. I expected this to happen and I tried to prepare myself and my family, but nothing could prepare me for this." We have likely seen the last of Vujcic in a Maccabi shirt and that's not just a loss for the club and its fans, but for every basketball lover in the country. Vujcic played the game the way it's supposed to be played and was a sheer joy to watch. I, for one, am already missing him. [email protected]