Before his team's game against the Raptors yesterday, Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Pini Gershon was asked if he went to synagogue Saturday.
"I'm leaving going to the synagogue for the most important games," he said. "This is not one of them."
Whatever you say, Pini.
It was hard to believe that after watching the Israeli team beat the Raptors 105-103 in an exhibition game at the Air Canada Centre.
Maccabi's players were celebrating as if they had won the Super Bowl. They saluted the fans, most of whom were cheering for the visitors, after the game.
"This is like history for (Israeli fans)," said Maccabi centre Yaniv Green, one of eight Israel-born players on the team (though several of the team's top players are not Israel natives).
"Everybody remembers the game Maccabi played and won over the Washington Bullets (in 1978). Everybody is still talking about it. I'm sure everybody in 20-something years is going to talk about this game, too."
Former NBAer Anthony Parker, who hit the winning shot with 0.8 seconds left, performed the heroics in front of his father, who was in the crowd watching him for the first time since he joined the team five years ago.
GAP IS CLOSING
Anthony Parker put the win in perspective.
"You see the gap closing with international basketball and here," said Parker, probably referring to recent victories for international teams over United States national teams featuring NBA players. "We really approached this game like it was a regular-season game. I don't know what their approach was. I don't think this means we'd be a great NBA team by no stretch of the imagination."
The game was shown on Israeli television and several Israeli reporters were in attendance.
"They're probably out partying in the streets right now," Maccabi centre Maceo Baston, a former Raptor, said. "The whole country was watching ... Making history now is definitely a big accomplishment."
The team didn't expect to receive the majority of the crowd support.
"That was a small surprise for me," Gershon said. "I thought before the game the fans would be Raptors fans. Fortunately, they cheered us in critical moments during the game. It helped to push us to win the game."
Maccabi Tel Aviv concludes its North American tour on Wednesday with a game against the Orlando Magic.