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Los Angeles Lakers blowout Maccabi Haifa B.C., US-Israeli ties are strengthened

Israeli and Jewish pride was everywhere on the evening of Oct. 11, as the Los Angeles Lakers and the Israeli Premier League team Maccabi Haifa Basketball Club (Maccabi Haifa B.C.) competed in an NBA exhibition game at Staples Center.
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October 12, 2015
Kobe Bryant (Courtesy of Getty Pictures)

Israeli and Jewish pride was everywhere on the evening of Oct. 11, as the Los Angeles Lakers and the Israeli Premier League team Maccabi Haifa Basketball Club (Maccabi Haifa B.C.) competed in an NBA exhibition game at Staples Center.

Maccabi Haifa B.C. players Renee Rougeau – a forward originally from Sacramento –  Jewish-American center Jeremiah Kreisberg and others lost to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in a blowout, 126-83. Tip-off at the sold-out, evening matchup was 6:30 p.m. ,and the game ended at approximately 9 p.m.

The game served both as an exhibition game for the Lakers and an opportunity for Maccabi Haifa B.C. to raise funds for American Friends of Rambam (AFORAM)/Rambam Health Care Campus, in Haifa. Maccabi Haifa B.C. has adopted the hospital and health center as its charity, and the players are there, when necessary.

“Sports are a great connector, and the L.A. Lakers are obviously a really great team, and this helps us reach out to the community in a fun way,” AFORAM Executive Director Michelle Segelnick, who was at the game, said in a later interview.

The hospital touts itself as the “official hospital for the Maccabi Haifa basketball team.” It is the largest hospital in the north of Israel, and it has been involved in responding to mass casualty events abroad, as well, including at the Syrian border.

Meanwhile, the Israeli team’s game against the Lakers team was part of a multi-day trip to the United States, which also included a stop for a Q&A and lunch at Sephardic Temple on Oct. 10, as part of the team’s efforts to raise awareness for the hospital. The team also played an exhibition game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Oct. 8. The Grizzlies defeated Maccabi Haifa B.C. 97-84.

In a phone interview before the two NBA games, Jeff Rosen, the United States-based owner of Maccabi Haifa B.C., said the Israeli team, in competing against teams like the Lakers, is preparing for its own season, which kicks off in late October.

“We’re pretty excited about it. We’ve been working the last five seasons on NBA pre-season tours…it’s been a huge branding opportunity, and, of course, it just gets our guys ready with the highest competition in the world for our upcoming season,” he said.

Maccabi Haifa B.C. is one of 12 teams in the Israeli Premier League. The team is one of the strongest in the league, with its biggest rival being Tel-Aviv’s team, Rosen said.

“There is a highly competitive brand of basketball in Haifa. Today it would be an objective comment to say Haifa, along with Jerusalem and along with Tel-Aviv, are the three elite teams in the league,” he said.

“Basketball in general is the second-largest most spectator sport [in Israel], with soccer first,” Rosen added.

Ariella Steinreich, a spokesperson for AFORAM, said for the Israeli team to play against NBA teams reinforces U.S.-Israeli ties.

“It’s important for Israeli-American relations, to spread awareness about the game,” she said in a phone interview.

Her hopes came true at the Staples Center: an Israeli flag hung from the stadium ceiling, alongside an American and Canadian flags, a scoreboard displayed text messages from attendees during half-time, including, “Am Yisrael Chai” and “Oh Vey! Go Lakers!” and many in the crowd sported Magen Davidadorned garb.

Attendees included Santa Monica resident and self-described “lifelong Lakers fan” David Leifer, who found himself rooting against his favorite team on Sunday.

Leifer was there with Daniel Rude, a Los Angeles-based chiropractor and Beth Jacob congregant who wore a fuzzy top hat with a Jewish Star of David emblazoned on it. The Lakers led 63-40 at halftime — Maccabi Haifa B.C., whose players wore green uniforms, trailed throughout the game, struggling to complete plays close to the basketball hoop — prompting Rude to say it would take more than a prayer for Maccabi Haifa B.C. to catch up to the Lakers.

“No, not unless the messiah comes,” said Rude, when asked if the Israeli squad had any chance of closing the gap.

And while many in the crowd were rooting for the Israelis, Lakers star Bryant – as well as veteran Metta World Peace, who recently returned to the Lakers, and the young, upcoming guard Nick Young– garnered some of the loudest applause. This was L.A., after all.

And apparently, the excitement to see Bryant wasn’t only coming from the crowds.

“We’re totally pumped,” Rosen said last week over the phone of playing against the NBA legend. “I just hope the guys don’t get star struck getting Kobe Bryant’s autograph. I told them that after getting his autograph, they have to go back to practice. After that, I think we’ll do just fine.”

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