The Sports Rabbi’s phenomenal trip to Prague: Basketball, hockey, Jewish history, Dresden & more!

Sep 13, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

Prague was unbelievable, an incredible trip with plenty of sports and history all rolled into one. Yes, Israel’s Eurobasket performance left a bitter taste as we departed the Czech Republic, but nonetheless and putting those last few games aside, the 10-day trip was a ton of fun, excitement that had plenty of highs along the way.

This was my second time in Prague, having visited the city back in 2015 while Maccabi Tel Aviv FC was in the midst of Champions League qualification against Viktoria Plzen, so the primary tourist sites had already been checked off prior to this trip. Of course, that didn’t mean a stop by the ancient synagogues, whether it was the Old-New Synagogue built in 1270, the Pinkas Synagogue, Maisel Synagogue, Spanish Synagogue and others plus the ancient cemetery alongside.

Old-New Synagogue – Photo Credit: The Sports Rabbi

Not to mention the world famous Golem of Prague who is still thought to be in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue, the various Kosher establishments that seemed to be reduced following the COVID-19 pandemic, there is plenty of Jewish history in just a few short city blocks.

Prague Castle – Photo Credit: Wikipedia

There are also plenty of other sites in the city including the Prague Castle which was easily accessible by foot or tram, or the Charles Bridge with its statues and splendor. Prague also had plenty of fun shopping stops whether it was the Palladium or along the main shopping strip that runs along the city streets.

Lego Museum – Photo Credit: The Sports Rabbi

If you like Lego there is also a tremendous Lego Museum which is the private collection of an individual who has a number of these facilities throughout the country plus one Lego hotel as well. The museum had Lego models of the past and present from my childhood to my children’s including a huge Star wars section that any fan would salivate from.

02 Arena

The home of Sparta Prague’s hockey team which we will get to a bit later on, the 02 Arena in the suburbs of Prague hosted the EuroBasket Group D and its 6 teams, Israel, Poland, Finland, Serbia, Holland and of course the host Czech Republic. Each team played one another once for a total of 15 games in group stage play for the basketball aficionado. Security to enter the 18,000 seats facility was tight with metal detectors and x-ray machines but once inside the fun began with “Bounce” the tournament mascot who entertained the crowd along with a top notch DJ who got the crowd riled up into a frenzy.

Deni Avdija & The Sports Rabbi

Some of the games of course were better than others but the competition got off to a stunning start as Israel shocked Finland 89-87 in an overtime matchup up that saw the best of the best from players such as Finnish star Lauri Markkanen and Israel’s NBA representative Deni Avdija. With over 5,000 Finns in the stands and a couple of hundred Sabras we all got arguably the most exciting game of the 15 right off the bat.

Lauri Markkanen – Photo Credit: FIBA

From Markkanen, who not only scored in bundles game after game with 33 points in an incredible showing to Avdija who checked in with 23 points and took the bull by the horns for Israel down the stretch, it was perhaps the highlight for coach Guy Goodes and their squad. Of course Israel defeated Holland on Saturday night in what was a much closer game than anyone expected but that was that as the Blue & White went down 1-2-3 to Poland, Serbia and then Czech Republic to send them packing back to the Holy Land licking their wounds.

Nikola Jokic and The Sports Rabbi

Four teams moved on to the knockout phase in Berlin as Serbia, Czech Republic, Finland and Poland all heading to Germany. Whether it was two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic who was great both on and off of the court, Vasilije Micic and the other Serbian stars, to Tomas Satoransky and Czech captain Vojtech Hruban and Jan Vesely, or Markkanen, Sasu Salin and Pettrei Koponen, to Mateusz Ponitka, Alex Balcerewski and Michal Sokolowski with Igor Milicic’s Poland or Worthy De Jong from Hollland, the storylines, the players and their personalities were tremendous.

Nikola Lalovic & The Sports Rabbi

Add to that the wonderful journalists like Nikola Lalovic from Serbia and others from the various countries who have now become good friends along the way. Like I said, the tournament was just great.

Czech Hockey Hall of Fame

While the 02 Arena is just outside of “downtown” Prague, it is very accessible in about 10-15 minutes by Metro and Tram. Add to that the fact that there is a huge shopping center right next to the arena which includes the Czech Hockey Hall of Fame, plus plenty of stores, shops and a massive supermarket, you’ve really got it all right at your fingertips.

The Hall of Fame was terrific as you take a trip back through the history of hockey within the country as well as what was once Czechoslovakia, there are plenty of NHL artifacts plus many actual games and skill contests for the young and old alike. There is also a terrific hockey shop attached to the museum with plenty of great T-shirts, jerseys and hats along with books and much more.

Czech Hockey Hall of Fame

While we are on the topic of hockey, the Czech Republic is one hotbed for the sport as the NHL will be holding two regular season games between the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators right at the 02 Arena to get the 2022/23 campaign underway. Super cool!

Sparta Prague display at the Czech Hockey Hall of Fame – Photo Credit: The Sports Rabbi

But you know what was even cooler? Going to a Sparta Prague Champions League hockey game against Lulea from Sweden at the Sportovini hala Fortuna on a Sunday afternoon. Normally, Sparta plays their games at the 02 Arena but due to the Eurobasket, the team played in their historical facility which opened its doors in 1962.

Sportovní hala Fortuna – Photo Credit: The Sports Rabbi

The smell of a grand old arena plus the top notch level of hockey was terrific as the fans were treated to a tight 3-2 win by the visitors with each team scoring a late goal in what was a defensive minded 60 minutes of end to end hockey. While former NHL star Vladimir Sobotka is still plying his trade in his native country it was super exciting to see some of the up and coming Czech future stars on the ice in action in Prague. The level of play was excellent and left me thirsting for more.

Another fabulous plus at Sparta is the superb merchandise that Sparta has on sale including cool hats, shirts and jerseys which of course I had to bring back for friends and family… as well as myself.

Sparta Prague

There is absolutely no question that a stop to see Sparta on the ice is a necessity on a trip to Prague and I can assure you that I will be back as well. With the time zones between Israel and Prague almost identical, one can follow game play at a normal hour rather than the middle of the night NHL games so with that in mind I’m already hooked into following the club from Jerusalem!

Sparta Prague also has a soccer team while they share the city’s fans with Slavia Prague along with a couple of smaller local outfits who all play in the top league. The Sports Rabbi headed to the Fortuna Stadium for a lopsided game between Slavia and Teplice which ended 6-0 in favor of the hosts. With over 10,000 fans in the 20,000 seat terrific facility, Slavia took control from the outset and my neck craned one way each half due to the club’s total dominance. Slavia is also playing in the UEFA Conference League and all in all a good time was had despite the one way traffic which really showed the club’s dominance.

Slavia Prague’s Stadium – Photo Credit: The Sports Rabbi

Check out their super cool kits!

If you’re in Prague and are looking for a day trip then Dresden is your destination. Under two hours by bus, you will be in one of the historical cities from World War II which saw the Allied Forces bomb the city in February 1945, leveling almost all of the buildings in the center of town. I took the Hop On, Hop Off bus around the city and enjoyed seeing some of the sites as well as learning about the local football club Dynamo Dresden which currently plays in Germany’s third division. While in Czechia one uses local currency Krones, in Dresden you are using Euros and also have a totally different vibe and variety of magazines and stores.

Dresden – Photo Credit: The Sports Rabbi

I must have purchased about a dozen magazines in my day trip to Dresden from Sport Bild to Kicker, Hockey and Lego! It was a sports fans dream!

All in all a trip to Prague is surely to be a blast for the sports adventurer as well as the history buff, there is so much to do and see plus I didn’t even get into the Czech cities close by like Kladno the home of hockey great and club owner Jaromir Jagr, Nymburk with its basketball team and much, much more.

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