Afik Nissim is a star and has been for many years, not only in Israel but across Europe. He is a workmanlike point guard who now plies his trade down south in the vacation resort city of Eilat. Yes Eilat. You didn’t think there were a lot of sports going on there did you? But yes there is.
Oded Katash is their coach and was one of the all-time Israeli basketball greats who actually had signed a contract with the New York Knicks but his NBA career never materialized as the 1999 lockout dashed his dream. So the combination of the two makes an amazing team and one that has helped Eilat to the heights of Israel basketball this season finishing off the regular season in 2nd place.
Nissim will definitely be one of the catalysts for the south side in the quarterfinal series against Rishon Le’Zion where he grew up and he goes in depth about who he is, where he has been and of course has a message for all of world Jewry.
“I’m 35 years old and I grew up in Rishon Le’Zion. I played my entire childhood there until I was 21-22 years old and then I went to play in Europe where I played for nine years. I played in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Ukraine, Russia, France, Italy and after nine years aboard I came back to Israel to play for Hapoel Eilat for the past 4-5 years. Basketball is my life, I really can say I am grateful for basketball as I went all around the world and met some really great people. I can also say something about myself, that when I was in Europe, that’s the time I became more connected to religion, Judaism and I met a lot of people that helped me along with way and for that I am very grateful.”
Football has always been the dominant sport in Israel, but growing up as a child basketball was his sport and of course he had some role models to look up to, “Like in every school as a child we had a lot of activities, basketball, soccer and everything but I just liked basketball. I went there and played basketball. I can say that there were a lot of players and a lot of people, but when I was younger I was compared to Adi Gordon. As a player, we were similar and of course as a child I was watching Michael Jordan all that time. As for coach’s I can say I had one coach by the name of Ilan Sela who I’ve known since I was 15 years old and he’s like a mentor for me.”
From Rishon Le’Zion, Israel, Nissim took an interesting twist to his career and decided not to stay in the Holy land but go aboard and broaden his horizons, “I wanted to discover something new. I know if I stayed in Israel there was not a lot of options as there are only 10 teams in the top league. So I wanted to see other religions, people, languages, basketball leagues and play in high-level European competitions. It was tough to be far from home but it was one of my goals.”
One of the pluses of playing in Europe was the many flights back home to Israel and a chance ti met someone special which is exactly what Nissim did, “For many years I was alone and by myself in Europe up until the last 3 years when I met my wife. She’s actually a flight attendant so on a flight back home we met and it was love at first sight.”
Making they decision to return to Israel is never an easy one for any athlete in any sport who had been playing abroad for a number of years and making Eilat the destination of course is not the usual one as most would want to be close to the center of the country and close to family, “I didn’t think of it as a vacation city or something like that, I thought about coming to play basketball. I came here and I’m part of this team and we have done a lot of good things for this city and the club as a basketball team. At one time Eilat was a huge basketball city and then it fell out of interest for a while, but now it has really come to back to life and is growing.”
Nissim continued, “It was not easy in the beginning, to start from zero, but there are a lot of good people here. From the mayor, the chairman, to everyone else that wants to do good things for the club and I am happy to be part of that. I can say I grew up with the team. I came back to Israel, and I came to a good team and our goal is to be in the first division for many years.
Of course Nissim has been one of the premier players for Israel as well and has represented the Blue & White for many years on the international scene. He delved into that topic with pride, “That was a great experience, to be all over Europe for basketball and then being able to hear Hatikvah, the national anthem being played with the national team before a game. Also being with 10-12 Israeli guys and to know that everyone is watching on the TV supporting the national team is really a great experience and I’m really glad that I did it.”
Looking at basketball today in Israeli one sees some big challenges lying ahead as youngsters look to move up the ranks, “The biggest challenge is to go from a youth team to play on the first team, it’s not easy, it’s a different game but you have to be at a high level to do it.”
Nissim has a final message for everyone as we wrap up our time together, “I can say that basketball is a sport for everybody and that it is beautiful. Everybody can pick up a ball and can play pickup and make a connection. Everybody can connect to basketball through sweating, running, winning and losing. It’s beautiful, just do it and enjoy the sport.”
I know that Afik Nissim is definitely enjoying the sport and still playing it on the grandest courts and levels of the game.