Wounded IDF Soldiers Cheered in NBA-Israeli Game

Israeli coach David Blatt leads new team Cavs against former team Maccabi Tel Avi, as pro-Palestinians demonstrate outside.

Shimon Cohen, Ari Yashar ,

David Blatt
David Blatt
Flash 90

Israeli coach David Blatt led his new team, the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, to a 107-80 victory over the visiting Maccabbi Tel Aviv, in a pre-season exhibition basketball game on Sunday that marked Blatt's NBA debut.

The game pitted the team expected to contend for NBA Championships with the Israeli team Blatt led to victory in the Euroleague Championships in May - a victory that was welcomed in the host nation of Spain by a storm of anti-Semitic Twitter comments.

Some of the most exciting action on the court actually came before the match, which was expected by many to end in a Cavs' victory, when 16 IDF reserve soldiers who were wounded in Operation Protective Edge were met with resounding applause for many long minutes.

The outpouring of support reached a peak when Noam Gershony, a Gold medalist Israeli wheelchair tennis player and war veteran, addressed the audience in the presence of the 16 soldiers and the Israeli basketball team to thunderous applause.

However, not all those coming out for the game were supportive of Israel. A small crowd of several dozen pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated before the game in front of the Quicken Loans Arena waving Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) flags.

The protesters, who bore signs reading "hold Israel accountable" and "boycott Israel," demonstrated across the street from the arena, as police made sure they kept their distance.

The protest is expected to follow Maccabi Tel Aviv to its next exhibition game against the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday, where protesters have already vowed to demonstrate.

"Nervous - not to play first NBA game, but to play former team"

Talking about the game against his former team, coach Blatt said "if you've got a brother and you go to play outside, you're dying to beat him. But if you do, you feel (bad). There was no way to really win that game," reports ESPN.

"I was nervous before the game, but not because it was the first time I coached in the NBA. I was playing against my friends," said Blatt, who embraced his former players and coaching staff after the game.

Most of the crowd's focus during the game was on the return of NBA star LeBron James to his hometown team where he launched his NBA career in 2003 and stayed until 2010 when he moved to the Miami Heat where he won two NBA Championships.

James, who scored 12 points before sitting out the second half to rest his recovering back, spoke about Blatt's game against his former team.

"He was very nervous, excited, uptight - and rightfully so," James said. "He has a lot of ties to that team, a lot of ties to that community, that city, that country and his first real game is against his former team. So I don't know how much he slept last night."

For the Cavs, Kyle Irving led with 16 points, while for Maccabi Sylvan Landesberg scored 23 and Jeremy Pargo 18.

Speaking about his former coach Blatt, Pargo said "he doesn't look at you like coach to player or you are beneath him. He looks at you as a man and he talks to you. That's one of the greatest things about him. And from a coaching standpoint, he has ways of managing personalities and managing games. He's unbelievable. He'll be very successful in the situation he's in."