This Saturday millions of college basketball fans will watch the NCAA Men’s Final Four in New Orleans. Kansas, Ohio State, Louisville, and Kentucky, all with long and storied traditions, will come with their blue-chip recruits, marching bands, and face-painted cheerleaders, and the two semifinal winners will face off on Monday night for the championship.
I couldn’t care less.
I love sports, and I love basketball, but I have zero interest in this Final Four. There is no underdog, no compelling story, and no sentimental favorite, only two unsavory coaches in Rick Pitino and John Calipari, who no sports fan with any sense of morality would ever root for.
But there’s another Final Four looming on the horizon that I might be very interested in.
5000 miles east of New Orleans, Istanbul is preparing for the Euroleague Final Four, where the best basketball teams in Europe will compete next month in the Euroleague championship, the most prestigious competition on the Continent.
And wouldn’t you know it, perennial Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv is one win away from the Final Four.
In their quarterfinal best-of-five series, Maccabi Tel Aviv is currently up two games to one against defending champion Panathinaikos. After dropping game one in Greece, Maccabi has won back-to-back games against the Athenians and are hoping to wrap up the series at their home court, Nokia Arena, sparing them from a winner-take-all game five on the road next week. A win would put Israel’s champions into the Final Four in Istanbul on May 11.
Unlike in soccer, when Israeli teams are routinely served up as cannon fodder for the European club powerhouses in the Champions League and Europa League, Maccabi Tel Aviv has had a long and storied history of European success, and, yes, even dominance. In 2004 and 2005 they won back-to-back Euroleague championships, bringing their total to five (and nine second-place finishes), and last year almost added another, losing in the championship game to the same Panathinaikos team that they hope to finish off tomorrow night.
While it might be impossible to watch this game unless you have a satellite dish or subscribe to the Euroleague package for online viewing, it’s worth getting excited about the potential for another Maccabi Tel Aviv championship.
In this season of a lot of worrisome news out of Israel, a little sporting glory would certainly be a welcome respite from the typical headlines.