Wednesday, October 18, 2006

This night was different from all others

Being an NBA fan is like being married to 29 other teams. You roll over in bed every winter, and see the same head buried in the same pillow that you've been seeing since before your hair went gray and you lost your ability to achieve an erection.

So, who can be faulted when your team wants to -- shall we say -- do some swinging? In the strictly religious sense, of course.

That's what drew my wandering heart to The Q last night to watch the Cavaliers play a rare contest against a non-NBA team: Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv, a Euroleague team that counts NBA players Anthony Parker and Sarunas Jasikevicius as alumni.

It was a curiosity more than anything else. Will Bynum was about the only player I recognized on Maccabi's roster. The Cavs' stars played three quarters, then sat when the game was in hand, allowing Shannon Brown, Daniel Gibson and Co. to close out the 93-67 win.

I went for the basketball, sure. But I also went because, as the familiar Passover recant goes, "This night is different from all others."

I'm not Jewish, but the idea of a Jewish-influenced sporting even intrigued me. I wanted to be a part of hoops with a side of matzo ball soup, if you will.

Newspaper reports in the days leading up to the game said a large portion of Cleveland's Jewish community were buying up tickets and planned to turn the game into a cultural event as much as a sporting event.

It was the truth. As many of us, including my friend Justin and I, traversed the concourses in our wine and gold attire, a number of people came wearing the bright yellow and blue of Maccabi. Other Jewish men were dressed in their traditional black finery. Many men and boys wore yamikas to the game, some brightly decorated with basketball themes.

The Maccabi cheering section wasn't big, but it was loud. Images of Israeli flags, both purchased and hand-drawn, made their way up onto the scoreboard to loud cheers.

The game wasn't close after the first quarter. But you got the sense that it didn't matter to the Maccabi supporters, who were simply getting a chance to see their team play on the big stage, in front of a live television audience.

It was a rare chance to see the Cavs play a different team, sure. It was also a rare chance to see basketball portrayed in a different light than the narrow scope of the NBA. This was basketball as a source of ethnic and religious pride, this was basketball captured in the frame of the rest of the world, tinged with political significance, with more meaning than the final score.

This might have been a rare time when everybody in the arena, save maybe for the Maccabi players themselves, came away as winners. The Cavs got some much-needed practice for the fast-approaching start of the season. Cavs fans got to see a win. Maccabi fans got to see a little bit of themselves take the floor of an NBA arena.

Maybe that makes them the biggest winners last night.

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