Euroleague Championship: CSKA beats Maccabi
Requiem for a Basketball Heavyweight
CSKA Moscow’s 73-69 victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv in last Sunday’s Euroleague final meant the crowning of a new champion as well as the probable end of a dynasty.
Two-time champ Maccabi, who fell short of a three-peat in Prague, were as close to a dynasty as you could find in international basketball these days. Over the past seven years, Maccabi has captured three European titles and has been runner-up twice.
The key to Maccabi’s success has been a consistently high level of coaching and management. Maccabi’s GM, Shimon Mizrachi has been running the organization, settling for nothing less then championships for as long as most people can remember.
Coach Pini Gershon has taken the club to Euroleague title games in his last five years at the helm.
Although a perennial European power, CSKA’s European championship was only its first since 1971. It’s questionable whether CSKA was the better team, but clearly they were better prepared and hungrier then their opponent. CSKA’s opportunistic defense caused 20 turnovers and prevented Maccabi from establishing any rythym on offense.
Maccabi narrowly missed the first European three-peat since Jugoplastika Split pulled one off l5 years ago.
Both Maccabi’s players and its coach have seemed less focused and consistent this season than in previous years. The Euroleague Final Four proved to be a microcosm of Maccabi’s entire season. In the semi-finals, they brought their A-game and demolished Tau Victoria and two nights later they were out of sync.
Since coach Gershon is expected to announce his retirement shortly and several key Maccabi players are expected to be playing elsewhere next season, observers in Israel are looking at the defeat as the end of an era.
Although Split is remembered as one of the greatest teams in the history of international basketball, Maccabi’s achievements came agruably under more difficult circumstances.
Split was a product of Soviet Bloc Eastern European basketball. The Yugoslavian national teams of the mid to late ‘80s and early ‘90s, anchored by Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac and Dino Radja, reached a level of harmony and basketball efficiency on a par with the greatest teams of the West. Split with Kukoc and Radja was the epitome of that system on a club level.
Since the Iron Curtain nations, prevented their star athletes from playing in the West, the nucleus of teams like Split remained together, much like our own major league teams, before the advent of free agency.
These days, European basketball has been affected by the age of globalization even more so then the NBA. Many of the top European players are currently playing in the NBA, and the rosters of European clubs are composed of foreigners (mostly Americans) with marginal NBA ability, plus local players. There is a constant flow of players and coaches, with foreign players rarely staying with the same club for more then a year or two.
The fact that Maccabi Tel Aviv, with a relatively modest budget by Euroleague standards, could dominate the way it has in recent years, is a minor miracle. Maccabi was a true example of the sum being much greater then the whole of it’s parts.
Maccabi basketball was characterized by a selfless group who played superb team basketball on both ends of the court and delivered in the clutch. Their only players who even approached superstar status were Sarunas Jasikevicius (now with the Indiana Pacers) and Anthony Parker, probably better known in America as Candace’s older brother.
A large fanatic fan base, which treated their players like rock stars and a player friendly style of play under Gershon’s loose rein, made Tel Aviv the place to be playing in recent years, other then the NBA. Maccabi’s glory days may be over, but they won't be forgotten soon.