The Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza has been dominating world news as of late, and the tension has now found its way to the basketball court.
A EuroCup game between Israel’s Bnei Hasharon club and Turk Telekom of Turkey was disrupted yesterday in Ankara when protesters began shouting death threats at the Israeli players. However, only a handful of the team’s players are from Israel. The team has five players from the United States, including former University of Colorado star Richard Roby.
The game never made it to tip-off, and the details of the scene are frightening.
It would seem that watching a EuroCup game was the last thing spectators who came to the stadium had on their minds. They were more focused on shouting “death to the Jews” and waving Palestinian flags.
If it weren’t for the advanced preparations by the Turkish police, which prevented the masses from attacking the Israeli players a few seconds before the opening whistle, a serious disaster might have transpired.
The game’s officials suspended the game and ordered the players off the court. Fortunately, the Turkish police was present to escort the team away. Bnei Hasharon GM Zeev Baram said that crowd members were throwing shoes and water bottles at his players. Baram noted that he thought something was amiss when a large group of people who appeared not to be basketball fans were gathering in the arena:
“A moment before jump ball, somebody in the stands whistled, and then the 2,500-3,000 people who were in the stands suddenly stormed toward the floor,” he explained. “The large police force simply couldn’t stop the masses. I yelled immediately to the players to run to the locker room. It’s lucky we made it to the locker room without anyone getting hurt.”
Baram said that his American players were particularly scared, as they are not used to such tensions spilling over into the sports world.
It should be noted that Turkey is known for its positive ties with Israel and for being a moderate secular Muslim nation, so this kind of display is out of the ordinary given the setting.
The craziest part of all of this? Bnei Hasharon may actually be charged with a loss!
Ironically, officials from ULEB, which oversees the EuroCup, are considering whether to slap Bnei Hasharon with a technical loss. The official line is that the team refused to play even after the crowd was kicked out of the hall.
“We’re not thinking about that at all,” Eldad Aconis told Haaretz after the team returned to its hotel. “We want to do now is safely return to Israel. People who weren’t here can’t understand what went on here. A technical loss is a scandalous decision, and I hope if it is made it will be reversed.”
How dare you want to get out of there and go home, team that almost got assaulted by angry extremists! There’s basketball to be played!