Sinai says: National basketball isn't a matter of life and death

A player can't decide to boycott the national team because he doesn't approve of the identity of the coach.

Allon sinai 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Allon sinai 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The national basketball team will hold its first training session of the summer on Wednesday, but coach Tzvika Sherf only learned late last night which of the 17 players he called up will be in attendance. Dror Hagag and Lior Eliyahu both asked to be released from the roster, for two very different reasons, and were both told that they are required to show up for training regardless of their wishes. Hagag, who had asked to be released for personal reasons, and Eliyahu, who has an ongoing row with Sherf, will after all attend Wednesday's session, but will be doing so reluctantly. Eliyahu, who is still reeling from his fall-out with Sherf at Maccabi Tel Aviv last season, refused until the very last moment to confirm whether he would grace the Hadar Yosef Arena with his presence, infuriating his coach and the Israel Basketball Association (IBA). Despite the happy ending, Eliyahu's and Hagag's cases raise once more the question of how to treat players who don't wish to play for the national team. Should they be forced to play for Israel and get disciplined if they don't? Or should they have the right to make their own decision on whether to be part of the national team? In general, athletes view playing for the national team as a privilege - as they should. "It's an honor to play for Israel. The national team is above any personal benefit," Israel captain Meir Tapiro said on Tuesday. In recent summers, however, Israeli basketball players have asked time and again for an exemption. Itzik Ohanon and Afik Nissim both independently decided to pull-out of the roster last year and Sherf vowed to never call them up again. Around the world, players often ask for a release and seem to always get their wish. Former Maccabi center Nikola Vujcic requested this summer, for example, to be left out of Croatia's roster for the Olympic qualifying tournament and wasn't called-up. Detroit Pistons guard Chauncey Billups's commitment to his country also wasn't questioned when he pulled out of the USA's team for the Beijing Games, citing personal reasons. The chiefs of the IBA, however, take a different approach and have absurdly compared playing for the national team to miluim (army reserve duty). The IBA is trying to use the comparison to say that, just like miluim, a call-up to the national team is obligatory. Anybody who has served even one day of miluim knows, however, that it's nothing like staying at a five-star hotel and playing basketball for a few hours a day, and the comparison only hurts the IBA's argument. Hagag isn't defending the borders or preparing for war and if he has a good reason why he can't spend two months playing for the national team in the summer than he should be released. Eliyahu's case is, however, very different. A player can't decide to boycott the national team because he doesn't approve of the identity of the coach. His decision to attend training on Wednesday and to wipe the slate clean was a wise choice, despite the fact it was made far too late. The IBA stood its ground and got its way in the Eliyahu case, but as for Hagag and other similar instances, Israeli basketball's governing body should show a little more compassion and remember its dealing with players and not soldiers. [email protected]