Tapiro continues to build Hall-of-Fame resume in Ashdod

Sinai Says: While Tapiro may not look the part, he plays it as well as anyone else in the BSL.

Meir Tapiro (RIGHT) 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Meir Tapiro (RIGHT) 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Meir Tapiro is far from the quickest player in the BSL.
In fact, he is probably one of the slowest.
As hard as you may look, you are unlikely to find a less athletic player in the league.
The slightly overweight, balding 37- year-old with a chronic cough doesn’t even look like a retired player, let alone an active one.
But while Tapiro may not look the part, he plays it as well as anyone else in the BSL.
His chance to join Maccabi Tel Aviv has gone, never to return, but he continues to enhance his Hall-of-Fame status with every season.
Tapiro’s signing for Maccabi Ashdod at the start of last season seemed to many like no more than an PR stunt by an attention seeking club appearing in the top flight for the first time in its history.
However, he recorded arguably his greatest achievement earlier this week when he helped Ashdod progress to the Final Four in the 19th season of a career that may not have included much silverware, but the likes of which few can compare.
Tapiro burst onto the scene as a 19- year-old when he scored a buzzer-beating basket for Hapoel Tel Aviv in a hotly contested derby against Maccabi Tel Aviv at Ussishkin Arena.
The 1.92-meter guard quickly established his place as a key player for Hapoel and solidified his standing as one of the league’s best Israeli players in his two seasons at Hapoel Eilat (1997-98).
He moved on to Maccabi Haifa in the summer of 1998 and he received a call up to the Israel national team after averaging 14.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game in 1998/99.
Tapiro retired from the national team three years ago after representing the blue-and-white in five European Championships (1999, 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007), making 121 appearances and reaching ninth alltime in scoring for the team.
After two years in Haifa, Tapiro joined Hapoel Jerusalem, playing four of the next five seasons for the club with which he would forever be associated.
He recorded his best statistical season in 2002/03, averaging 17.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists, but missed Jerusalem’s crowning moment, spending the following year at Bnei Hasharon when Hapoel lifted the ULEB Cup.
After a relatively successful season with France’s Nancy, Tapiro returned to Jerusalem for two more years, finally winning his first title in Israel in 2006/07, helping Hapoel to the State Cup.
Poignantly, one of the most memorable moments of his career arrived a few months later when TV cameras captured him begging referee Sami Bachar not to foul him out late in the fourth quarter of Jerusalem’s meeting with Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Final Four title game.
“I’m begging you, I’ve been waiting for this my entire career,” pleaded Tapiro, who ended the game in tears after Maccabi snatched the championship at the buzzer.
That would prove to be his last game in a Jerusalem jersey, with two seasons at Bnei Hasharon and one with Maccabi Rishon Lezion to follow before he decided to join Ashdod in the summer of 2010.
Tapiro didn’t really have any interest in joining the club, but agreed to meet Ashdod’s management and was soon hooked on the idea of helping a new team establish its place in the BSL and build a following in a soccer-dominated city.
Ashdod was the surprise package of last season, reaching the quarterfinal playoffs, and one of the reasons behind this year’s success was its decision to retain the services of excellent Americans Josh Carter and Josh Duncan as well as coach Ofer Berkowitz.
But Tapiro has played as big a role as any in Ashdod’s recent triumphs, averaging 30.8 minutes, 9.0 points, 4.6 boards and a careerbest 7.4 assists per game during the regular season.
Unsurprisingly, he has taken his game to another level in the playoffs, recording 12.8 points, 7.8 assists and 7.4 rebounds per game in Ashdod’s 3-1 quarterfinal win over the No. 2 seed and last year’s runner-up Hapoel Gilboa/Galil.
“There is something special about this team that goes beyond basketball,” Tapiro said after Ashdod advanced to the Final Four for the first time with an 82-80 win over Gilboa on Sunday.
“We are trying to build a sporting culture and we hope that all of Ashdod will come to Nokia Arena for the Final Four.
“When I joined Ashdod one of my goals was that people would hear about this team and we have now managed to do that. I’ve enjoyed every moment here and when you enjoy yourself good things will happen.”
Ashdod will next face the winner of the series between Rishon Lezion and Ironi Ashkelon, which will be decided on Wednesday night.
Regardless of the identity of its next opponent, a place in the final, probably against Maccabi Tel Aviv, now seems well within Ashdod’s reach.
Five years after his one and only appearance in the final ended in heartbreaking fashion, Tapiro is on the verge of the championship game once more.
Now that would be redemption.
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