From High Hoops to Home Truths

Published: December 14th 2010
in News » World

A champion: Tal Brody in 1977 after winning the European Championships, and putting Israel on the map in the basketball world.
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Tal Brody hosting a basketball clinic in New England.
Pic: None

When the Foreign Ministry appointed US-born former Israeli basketball star Tal Brody as Israel's international Goodwill Ambassador in July, he saw it as a completely natural progression. "I'm embarking on the third stage of my life," he tells ISRAEL21c. "This is what I want to do. I'm very proud as a sportsman to fill this role."


At 67, he could have retired, and together with his wife Tirtza enjoyed watching their five grandchildren grow up in Israel. Instead, he is taking on the role of roving ambassador. "It's a lot of energy moving around and talking, but I enjoy it," he says.


Arguably Israel's most famous athlete, Brody first came to Israel as captain of the gold-winning US team for the 1965 seventh Maccabiah, the quadrennial "Jewish Olympics."


A college hoops star at the University of Illinois, where he earned a Bachelor's degree in physical education and a Masters in educational psychology, the Trenton, New Jersey native was the number 13 Draft pick in 1965. But instead of pursuing an NBA career, he opted to help propel Israeli basketball onto the international scene.


"In 1966-7 I came here for one year. The idea was to help Israeli basketball. What happened to me that year pulled me into the second year. I saw the excitement basketball was generating, how the sport was influencing the morale of the country, just as the Egyptians and Syrians were getting ready to push us into the sea."


His second year in Israel was curtailed when the US military began recruiting graduates for the Vietnam War effort. "I joined the army's All-Stars team, and did goodwill tours of South America and Europe," he recalls. This included representing the USA in the World Championships in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1970.


"During that competition I received a note from Moshe Dayan asking me to come back to Israel," he recalls. In Belgrade, he met with then-Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Yehoshua Rosen, who brought him back to Maccabi after his release from the US military.


Putting Israel "on the map"


What follows is part of Israeli sporting folklore. Under the guidance of the legendary late coach Ralph Klein, a Holocaust survivor who went on to coach the West German national team, Maccabi became Israel's first - and so far only - international sporting powerhouse.


Brody, a consistently influential shooting guard, captained the 1977 team that won the European Championships, beating Mobilgirgi Varese 78:77 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia on an unforgettable night that had the whole country glued to television screens. It was the first time an Israeli team had won any sporting competition of that caliber.


But the symbolic highlight was the 91-79 semi-final victory over CSKA Moscow, then one of Europe's top teams, played in Belgium after the Soviet champions refused to play in Israel or to host Israelis. Brody's immortal phrase from an animated post-game interview put the result in proportion: He and his teammates had put Israel "on the map."


"And we are staying on the map, not only in sports, but in everything," he proclaims in heavily American-accented Hebrew.


Brody was the backbone of the "winningest" team in Israeli sporting history. He galvanized a rare group of homegrown talents with NBA veterans, in the first of a string of successful Maccabi lineups. Maccabi Tel Aviv won the Championship Cup again in 1981 and reached, but lost, the European finals five times during the 1980s. Further European titles were to follow in 2001, 2004 and 2005. He was also an Israeli national team stalwart, scoring 1,219 points in 78 games.


Related articles: (Tal Brody, Basketball)
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