Maccabi Tel Aviv BC is a professional basketball club that competes in both the Israeli Ligat Ha’al (Premier League) and the Euro League. Founded in 1932, Maccabi Tel Aviv B.C., which plays in the Menora Mivtachim Arena in the Yad Eliyahu neighborhood of Tel Aviv, is one of the most well decorated basketball teams in both the Euro League and Israeli Basketball Premier League. Holding six European Championships, one Adriatic Championship, 51 Israeli Championships, 43 Israeli Cups, and six League Cups, Maccabi is an outlier of success amongst other Israeli professional sports teams. As a result, the team is considered Israel’s sporting ambassadors to the world.
In 1977, at the height of the Cold War, Maccabi Tel Aviv wins the European Cup. Before advancing to the final round of the championships, where they defeat the Italian team and two-time defending champions Mobilgirgi Varese by one point, the team defeats CSKA Moscow in the semi-final game. This game was significant not only because the Soviet team was strongly favored to win, but the Soviet Union had broken ties with Israel and supported their neighboring Arab enemies as a result the June 1967 Six Day War. The Soviet Union refuses to allow CSKA to play the game in Israel, but also refuses to allow the Israeli team to enter Moscow to play. Accordingly, the game, which was supposed to be a home game, is played in a small Belgian village. Despite the expectation that the game will be a blowout win for CSKA against the relatively obscure Israeli team, Maccabi upsets the Soviets 91-79.
This championship was extremely significant for Israeli society for many reasons. However, with regard to Israeli identity, this victory drew upon important notions of early Zionism. Max Nordau, a prominent early Zionist leader, argued that the “New Jew” needed to exude strength and physical prowess to combat anti-Semitic notions of Jews being weak and physically incapable. Accordingly, his concept of Muscular Judaism became an important ideal of the Zionist movement and later Israeli society. Even though not all the players on the roster are Israeli or Jewish (there are five Americans on the roster) the Maccabi victory, Israel’s first major sports championship was an important realization of this ideal.
Maccabi Tel Aviv Star Tal Brody holding up the championship trophy. Photo Source: Public Domain.