By ALLON SINAI
The efforts made by Maccabi Haifa owner Jeffrey Rosen to promote his team in North America in recent years are truly admirable. Sadly, however, in recent months it is beginning to seem like the performance of the club has become no more than a sideshow to a relentless pursuit of publicity for Haifa, and perhaps even more worrisome, for Rosen himself.
It is one thing to broadcast the team's games over the internet, as Haifa has done since last season. It is quite another to force a player on your coach to create a frenzy of global media hype, as the franchise has also done under the current regime.
Rosen has been craving international exposure since he bought the club in 2007 and three months ago he finally got his wish with the acquisition of San Diego High School sensation Jeremy Tyler.
Haifa created a priceless buzz by handing the 18-year-old a $140,000 one-year contract and making him the first American-born player to leave high school early to play basketball professionally overseas.
Rosen is seemingly exhausting every possibility to put his team in the limelight - from investing in a reality television show on the inner working of Maccabi for cable channels in the United States to inexplicably sponsoring Jewish-American boxer Dmitry Salita, who will be facing Amir Khan for the WBA world championship next month.
As pointless as the sponsorship of a boxer seems, the real problem lies with the signing of the 2.11-meter, 118-kilo teenager.
There is nothing wrong with the Aventura, Florida, resident wanting to raise Haifa's profile abroad. However, Rosen crossed the line the moment he decided to sign a player to the team based on the public attention he can draw rather than the contribution he can make.
Haifa coach Avi Ashkenazi has repeatedly stated in recent weeks that he had no real option but to accept the signing of Tyler, even though it was always clear to him that his side's performance would suffer as a result.
Tyler's inept play on the court has been made worse by his behavior off it. While he has only scored two points and played a combined 20 minutes in three BSL games, Tyler has already been fined $1,000 for missing a workout and showing up late to an interview. Last week, he was also ejected during Haifa's 35-point thrashing at the hands of Hapoel Gilboa/Galil, not to mention that he has already upset his neighbors several times, including playing music a little too loud for their liking on Yom Kippur.
After losing in the BSL title game as well as the State Cup final last season, Haifa was expected to build on the surprising success this season, especially after retaining the services of several key players. However, the team has been in dire straits since the start of the campaign, and even though Tyler is clearly not entirely to blame for the current struggles, his signing has certainly not helped. Team chemistry has suffered and Haifa's most pressing problem at the moment is the lack of a significant contribution under the baskets, something Tyler was expected to help with but currently is not capable of providing.
Ashkenazi has refused to rule out cutting Tyler from the team, but don't expect that to happen any time soon. After all, in the past two weeks alone, extensive features on Haifa and Rosen have been done by ESPN, The New York Times and the Associated Press.
Tyler may not be coming up with the goods on the court, but he is sure proving his worth off it.
The real issue, however, is whether Rosen's publicity profit is not Maccabi Haifa's loss.
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