Sinai Says: Peleg still playing for love of the game

Sinai Says Peleg still

In an athletic era dominated by spoiled stars, there are still a rare few who appreciate their privileged lives and epitomize what sports are all about. Barak Peleg's career may be drawing to a close, but the 37-year-old Ironi Nahariya hoopster remains no less an inspiration. Peleg's talent for basketball was obvious from an early age. However, the frenetic forward almost never became a professional player after choosing to abandon his sporting dreams in favor of service to his country. The fact that more and more Israeli sporting talents try to avoid even their token army service these days makes Peleg's decision to join Sayeret Matkal all that more remarkable. Peleg's priorities are different from those of the average athlete and he plays the game on the court the way he lives his life off it. In a nutshell, Peleg's general philosophy is that an individual should sacrifice himself for the greater good, and not just in sports. After his service in the elite IDF unit, the Kibbutz Lavi native was very close to not returning to the court. He considered several alternatives before being drawn back into the game by his sheer love for basketball. Peleg began his pro career at Hapoel Tzefat of the Liga Leumit in the 1994/95 season and helped the team to promotion to the top-flight in his first season at the club. After strenuous years of army service, Peleg was stunned by the attitude of some of his teammates. "Players would complain about the difficulty of training, while I was simply grateful for having a chance to play," Peleg said in a recent interview. "Basketball was a hobby at the beginning of my career and I even got paid for it." While the game was no more than a way to make a living for other players, Peleg was playing basketball simply because he enjoyed it. After two years in Tzefat, Peleg moved on to Maccabi Ra'anana, where he would make his breakthrough. Naturally, Peleg proved to be the perfect team player, sacrificing his ego for the benefit of the club's success. What he lacked in talent he more than made up for in hard work and hustle, playing a key role in his team's defensive scheme while also hitting key shots on offense when his side needed them most. His best statistical season in Ra'anana came in the 1998/1999 campaign, when he averaged 11.9 points and 3.9 rebounds in 22 league games. Despite his mediocre statistics, Peleg's contribution was not overlooked by the national team coaching staff and he chosen to be part of the roster which competed in the 2001 European Championships. After two more successful seasons at Hapoel Jerusalem, Peleg returned up North to play at Hapoel Galil Elyon for a single season before joining Nahariya. At Nahariya he found his true home, becoming one of the anchors of the team between 2003 and 2008. Last season he decided to move to Liga Leumit club Hapoel Afula, and after he tore a tendon in his leg in February of this year it seemed as though his career was all but over. However, always a fighter, Peleg had no intention of ending his career on a sour note went through a long recovery process before returning to Nahariya and the BSL this summer. Peleg is currently the oldest Israeli player in the BSL, but is still an important contributor, averaging 18 minutes per game. "There are some players who don't really love the game," Peleg said. "They make a lot of money but they don't enjoy training or pressure. As I've grown older I have come to realize how much I love the game and how much it has given to me." Peleg's career may almost be over, but fortunately he intends to remain in the sport as a coach. Israeli basketball could not wish for a better role model.