On Sunday, Israeli sports fans held their collective breath — the country’s perennial-powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team was playing for the Euroleague championship.
A few hours, they let out their breath — Maccabi Tel Aviv won.
And on Monday, they celebrated.
The day after the team, which last year had finished second in Israel’s professional basketball league, defeated Spain 98-86 in overtime in Milan, it arrived at Tel Aviv, top. Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square become one big party zone. The Tel Aviv Municipality Building was dressed up in the team’s yellow and blue lights that rotated to show the words “Maccabi,” “Tel Aviv” and the final victory margin.
The team, dominated by foreign-born players, celebrated along with its 30,000 fans.
“You were an example of determination. The whole team fought like lions and won,” President Shimon Peres, wearing a yellow tie, told coach David Blatt. “I watched the whole game and nearly had a heart attack. You are heroes and have brought incredible pride to the State of Israel.”
“Israel is good at impossible things,” Blatt, a Boston native, said.
Speculation has already begun in Israel about Blatt’s future — maybe with an NBA team.
The Israeli team, which had won the European championship five previous times, was an underdog this year. A contingent of Israelis, estimated as more than 10,000, traveled to Milan for the game, cheering for their players and waving yellow-and-blue banners and the team’s flag, a yellow-and-blue version of the Israeli flag, with the star of David in the center.
Back at home, about a third of the country watched the game live on TV.
This month was a good one for Maccabi Tel Aviv — its soccer team just defended its national championship.