The Last Word: Was there ever any doubt who the champion was?

Maccabi may have had a bad season by their standards, but they were infinitely superior to Hapoel in the BSL.

jeremy last better pic (photo credit: Courtesy)
jeremy last better pic
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It's been a hard week for fans of Hapoel Jerusalem. The second-best basketball team in Israel came within a few seconds of taking the Israeli championship for the first time in its history last week, with Jamie Arnold's last gasp basket for Maccabi Tel Aviv's leaving Hapoel's supporters down in the dumps, ruing the best opportunity their team has ever had to outdo the perenial champion. The Hapoel fans felt, and still feel robbed of an historic championship, believing that this one game would have proven the team in red was the number one basketball side in the country. But really we all knew who the champion was before the Final Four even began. Maccabi may have had a bad season by their standards, losing out in the Euroleague quarters, but they were infinitely superior to Hapoel in the BSL. In the 27-game regular season Tel Aviv lost only twice while Jerusalem was beaten seven times, often by embarrassingly large margins such as in the. The fact is the system is kind of ridiculous. It is bad enough that playoffs serve little purpose when there is only one division in the first place. There's little need for the fourth placed team to play against the team that came first because even if the number one team loses, it doesn't prove much. Success should be measured by a team's performance over a season. But when two years ago the league management decided to change the system from a series of games to two one-off matches in an attempt to give any other team a chance to beat Maccabi Tel Aviv the situation became farcical. And in any case it hasn't worked. All the efforts made to produce an alternative winner have still resulted in the team in yellow clinching the championship year after year. A single game may have given Maccabi's opponents more of a chance but is this really the way to introduce true competition in Israeli sports? It's time to take a step back and think about better ways to improve the league rather than just trying to tweak the system. The first thing to consider is how wonderful it is that Maccabi has managed to become such a basketball force in the place. Until the late 70's, there was no Israeli team which had made an impact on the world stage. It may be annoying for fans of the other teams, but Israelis should be, and generally rightly are proud of Maccabi Tel Aviv's success. We are only a small nation, and since beating CSKA Moscow in the semifinals and Mobilgigri Varese in the European finals in 1977, the team has firmly placed itself as the representatives of Israeli sports. For a team like Hapoel Jerusalem, or any other Israeli club for that matter, to compete on a level playing field there is one simple factor: money. It of course is never easy to raise large sums of capital, but Israeli clubs need to think big and look abroad. Just like more and more English soccer clubs are being bought out by Americans with wads of cash, surely some of the Israeli basketball teams can do the same. There must be some well-off Jewish philanthropists who would be willing to invest in a team with the chance of making a name for themselves and changing the face of Israeli basketball. The only person who has really thrown their hat in the ring so far has been Betar Jerusalem owner Arkadi Gaydamak, but even he has been half-hearted in his approach to donating money to Hapoel. The clubs need to first improve their image, act a little more professionally and then go looking for the bucks. Only then, when there are two or three other teams fighting for the league, can we see true and interesting basketball competition in Israel.