Lebron James and Stephen Curry may be kings among sports critics and basketball fans in the US, but Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt is “the man” in Israel. “Blattmania” is in full throttle over here and it’s the reason everyone from security guards to butchers, high-tech entrepreneurs to high-school kids, are bleary-eyed the day after a game.
The Golden State Warriors and Cavs hit the courts at 3am or 4am Israel time.
But that doesn’t stop Israelis – who, for the most part, had no feelings for either team last year – from getting up in the middle of the night to watch the four-time winner of the Israeli League Coach of the Year award try to lift his team to the NBA title.
It’s all about David Blatt in Israel. The Midwest team has become ”Israel’s team” in the NBA and is even known as “David Blatt’s Cavaliers.”
“You are the reason why I am now an avid Cavaliers fan. You have caused me to stay awake all night in front of the TV screen. I haven’t missed a single game. I witnessed every moment of the tough beginning, and I was hurt by the cruel campaign waged against you, the exaggerated assault on the unknown rookie who came out of nowhere and wasn’t afforded even a moment of grace,” prominent media personality Rafi Ginat writes in Ynet.
The sports pages, usually dedicated to soccer, are running full-page articles on Blatt and the Cavs.
The security guard at my youngest son’s kindergarten greets the kids with the best plays he just watched on TV while they were still sleeping.
“I never watch the NBA at that hour, but because of David Blatt, I’ve seen all of the playoffs,’’ Eli Mordechai, the owner of an electronics store in Tel Aviv, told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s a little bit tiring at work, but it’s worth it. How many times does an Israeli reach the finals of the NBA?”
Pretty much all of Israel would celebrate if the Cavs were to win the title. But even if they don’t, no amount of criticism by American media (including late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel’s comical mash-up of Blatt “singing” the American national anthem by um-ing his way through press conferences) will diminish Israel’s total admiration for the Israeli-American guy who made basketball history in Israel thanks to his top-notch coaching skills but is also seen as a true mensch.
”He’s living out the dream of every Israeli who wants to make it big in the world,” Dotan Ben-Yosef, a 25-year-old university student who wakes up at 3am for the games, told Haaretz. ”I think everyone here wants him to win.”
And Blatt, for his part, says a good word about his devoted fan base in Israel after every game.
“The people in Israel are up at 6 o’clock in the morning. I’ve got to give them something to do. I can’t just make it easy. Seven million people watching the game, it’s got to be exciting. No, really, honestly … nobody’s ever out of it unless they’re playing badly and have quit. And we had … to do everything we could just to hold on, and fortunately we did,” Blatt said after Game 2.
Of course, Blatt is not the first Israeli in the NBA. Omri Casspi became the country’s first NBA player in 2009 and Gal Mekel made appearances after that. But Blatt is the first coach to go from the European Leagues to the NBA, he’s got one of basketball’s best players on his team, and he’s in the NBA finals.
Good luck, David Blatt!