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Teens > Playing for fun and for national pride

By Danny Hamburg

Note: The full version of this article can be found in the teen readers

We knew we in were trouble from the beginning. It was 97 degrees in Austin, Texas at about 2:30 in the afternoon, but anyone who has ever been to Austin knows to take the actual temperature and add 10 degrees to get what if feels like. We had been banished to the auxiliary gym at St. Stephen’s Catholic School sports facility. It was banishment because the auxiliary gym’s air conditioning didn’t work. My team, a modest collection of Jewish basketball players from Kansas City, and fresh off the disappointment of a close loss to San Antonio in the morning was sweating through lay-up lines when they arrived. Decked out in brand new Adidas warm-ups, carrying identical gym bags and laced up with shining, white Converse basketball shoes they stormed into the gym with menacing looks on their faces. The Israeli team, unfazed by the heat, looked ready for action.

Preparing for the opening tip was almost comical. Their team dwarfed the members of my polite, Midwestern group. In both size and strength, the Israelis clearly held the edge. After the game got under way, any previous delusional preconceptions that we actually had a chance were quickly erased. The Israeli team, clearly conditioned and practiced, ran up and down the court executing picks and cuts with proficiency. On the defensive end they harassed us everywhere, forced turnovers, and scored easy buckets. At different points in the second quarter I recall the score being 21 to 3, and 31 to 9, and if my memory serves me right it shouldn’t have even been that close. You might mistakenly assume their coach was pleased by the romp, but that was far from the case. He screamed at his players the whole game, and very humorously yelled at the poor referee in Hebrew, to which the bewildered ref had no response.

In the second half, we had recovered from our daze and actually made a game out of it. We did manage to outscore them in the second half, but by that time the game had long been decided. In the end there was just too much difference in size, precision, and most importantly in attitude to ever make up. It is not too often that you want to memorialize a game where you got thoroughly beaten, but all of my teammates and I wanted to get pictures of the Israelis afterwards.

Later on, I had the opportunity to talk to some of the Israeli team members. So hostile and intense on the court, they were –off the court - by far some of the nicest people I met there. They were friendly to everyone and were just like regular teens. When I asked about their maniacal coach, they just laughed and said that they don’t mind all his screaming. They want to win, and he is the guy who knows how to do it.

The Israelis only brought one team to Maccabi, their basketball team. It is a huge sacrifice for them to send eleven guys here, so they trained for the previous six months to be ready. I came to Maccabi to have fun first, and maybe play a little basketball second. They came to Maccabi to win first, and maybe have a little fun. To go to Maccabi for these guys was a huge deal. They were representing their country, Israel. To them it did matter, and they did have expectations to live up to. They were expected to come home with the gold medal, and they wanted to do so with all their hearts. Their fierce nationalistic pride is what set them apart from everyone else down there. Sure they were bigger kids and were well prepared, but what made them so good was their desire. That is why every loose ball went to them, and they rebounded like machines. They yearned to win not for themselves, but for their country. Off the court they transformed back into normal teenagers, but on the court they were something else. They were teens with nationalistic purpose, and they were willing to sacrifice blood, sweat, and tears to achieve their goal.

When everyone got to know the Israeli team, it was impossible not to unite and identify with them. Their struggle is our struggle, and their cause is our cause. Through their constant display of fervent Israeli nationalism everyone came to realize this. Most of the time, getting pounded by anyone in sports is not a source of pride, but I’m would not hesitate a second to proudly proclaim my team was trounced by the Israelis!

Daniel Hamburg is an 11th grade student from Leawood, KS, where he is active in the youth group at Congregation Bnai Jehudah. He has played baseball and basketball in organized leagues, and golf just for fun.

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