maccabi

Photography: Malin Fezehai

 

In May 2014, guard Tyrese Rice led Maccabi Electra of Tel Aviv to an astronomical 51st Ligat Ha'Al crown, and to upset wins over CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid in the Euroleague Final Four. Rice is the latest un-drafted American NCAA basketball standout to find haven at the storied Jewish sporting club that’s older than the state of Israel. Photographer Malin Fezehai entered the cauldron of the Yad Eliyahu Sports Arena to photograph the expat star, the team, and the fans on their journey towards glory.

 

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Once an all-ACC point guard at Boston College, Tyrese Rice was ignored by the NBA. After stints in Lithuania, Germany, and Montenegro, he arrived at Maccabi Summer of 2013, where following a largely frustrating season, he powered the club through the Euroleague Final Four, scoring 14 points in extra time, during the championship win over Madrid.

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As a European basketball superpower and the country's top club, Maccabi has long been a destination for Jewish-American expats. David Blu (#13), from USC, and Sylven Landesberg (#15), a former McDonald's High School All-American from Brooklyn, have become naturalized Israeli citizens.

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Founded in 1906, Maccabi Tel Aviv Sports Club is a cornerstone of Jewish athletic culture and of Israeli sports. It has continuously operated a basketball club since 1932, as well fielded teams in futbol, judo, swimming, and handball.

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At the end of the 2013–14 season, Maccabi's David Blatt was voted Euroleague coach of the year. In June, he was named head coach of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, where in 2014–15 he worked with Lebron James.

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Wives and girlfriends, during the game.

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Maccabi's Ricky Hickman driving past CSKA Moscow's Vitaly Fridzon, in April 2014. Hickman's career is typical for basketball expats: after graduating from UNC-Greensboro, he's played in, among others, Romania, Italy, and Israel, while starring for Georgia at international tournaments.

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As the biggest club in the land, Maccabi commands the support of the country's rabid—and diverse—fanbase. David Blu and former youth program manager Vito Gilic have volunteered with the charity Peace Players, which unites and educates Jewish and Arab young people through basketball.

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Hickman's dunk sealed the win over Emorio Armani Milan in the Euroleague playoffs, sending Maccabi to their eventual Final Four glory in Milan.

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Soon after coach Blatt decamped for Cleveland, Rice (seen here with a fan in April) opted out of his Maccabi contract, signing a deal with Khimiki Moscow.