United we stand, divided we fall: Maccabi needs the fans and the fans need Maccabi

Nov 16, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

There’s no question that playing in an empty arena in Belgrade isn’t doing any favors for Maccabi Tel Aviv. They struggled a few years back during the COVID Euroleague season which saw the yellow-and-blue playing in front of no one at Yad Eliyahu and they are struggling once again. The fans in stands help Maccabi Tel Aviv and without them they are like a rudderless ship going nowhere fast.

Oded Katash’s squad gave up 51 first half points to an Olympicos team that eventually won 79-74 and was without a number of key players including Nikola Milutinov and Shaq McKissic as well as Nigel Williams-Goss to an injury mid-game and Alec Peters in the second half after he picked up his 5th foul. Add to the fact that Georgios Bartzokas’s team has yet to fully come to grips with losing two star players in Sasha Veznekov and Kostas Sloukas and this Olympiacos team was ripe for the taking. However, Maccabi couldn’t quite figure out how to bring the defensive fortitude in the first half and by the time they were chipping away at the lead in the final twenty minutes it was just too late.

Put aside the no-show defense in the first half, Maccabi Tel Aviv who were without Wade Baldwin due to a stomach virus, didn’t receive much on offense from their top players Lorenzo Brown and Bonzie Colson who combined for a pitiful evening from deep going 0/12 from beyond the arc. All in all, Maccabi shot a pathetic 6/30 for 20% which a recipe for disaster any which way you slice it.

Lorenzo Brown – Photo credit: Djordje Kostic and Dragan Tesic

Moustaoha Fall was huge literally and figuratively in the paint playing 35 minutes and causing havoc for Josh Nebo and anyone else trying to go to the hoop, although there were signs of life from Roman Sorkin who was able to score 16 points. However, Olympiacos won the battle of the boards 42-36 which included an incredible 18 offensive rebounds as they were able to hang on as the game headed towards the final buzzer.

Last week let’s be honest. Maccabi may have won by 3-points over a poor Bayern Munich team, but that victory should have been by an easy twenty and should that game have been played in Tel Aviv there is no doubt that this would be the case. Against Olymapiacos in the Yad, 51 points just would have not been the case, but the unfortunate reality is that the yellow-and-blue will be playing in Belgrade for the foreseeable future with no return date in sight as long as missiles continue to rain on Tel Aviv.

“I think we lost the game with our lack of energy and defensively in the first half and defensively,” Katash said. “We made a great effort in the second half to get back into the game to give us a chance to win. To say that this wasn’t our best offensive game would be an understatement. We played better in the second half and we have to give credit to Olympiacos they took us out of our rhythm, but in two days we have another game and hopefully we will have Wade Baldwin back.”

Wade Baldwin – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Baldwin, who had been out for a little bit more than a month due to a back injury was out once again this time with a stomach virus and his absence was felt immediately. If Maccabi have any designs on making it into the Euroleague playoffs they will need both Baldwin and Brown to play off of one another. We saw it so many times last season what happened when one or the other was missing and how well that the Maccabi engine ran with both on the court.

There was a huge uproar this week amongst the fanbase as well as by some of the media outlets who decided to play judge, jury and executioner when Baldwin’s partner posted a short clip of a video that let’s say didn’t paint Jews and Israel in the best of lights which was very quickly taken down. It was clear from the outset that it was nothing more than an error in judgment, nothing malicious and was corrected almost immediately. There should have been no harm done and that would be the end of the story. However, the damage was done and the fire began to burn uncontrollably until both Baldwin and his partner issued statements pledging allegiance to Maccabi and Israel.

This entire episode was way, way, way blown out of proportion and should have never had to become a maelstrom.

Everyone understands what has happened here in Israel and everyone has lost a loved one, has someone close to them being held hostage or knows someone injured. Sometimes one needs to just use common sense and understand that here you have a player and his family who committed to playing in Israel for the next few seasons and has been a model citizen on and off of the court for the yellow-and-blue. But instead everyone had to fly off of the handle and deem Baldwin guilty until proven innocent.

Take a step back and relax.

Maccabi has a long season ahead with plenty of games to go. The players both foreigners and Israelis are in a very tough situation and are in one that they didn’t bargain for without a doubt.

Lorenzo Brown, Bonzie Colson & Wade Baldwin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

When you sign with Maccabi you’re expecting to play in Tel Aviv and not in Belgrade. Of course, we also know that the Middle East and Israel is a pack of matches, a tinderbox and a fire can be set off instantaneously as was the case on October 7th.

We didn’t ask for the Hamas attacks but we do have to respond which is what we are doing.

Tempers are high and emotions are flying, but going after a massively important player in Maccabi’s success last season and one that has been missing this one is not going to help matters.

Baldwin is hopefully going to be back for Maccabi when they “host” Fenerbahce and its Israeli guard Yam Madar. As Katash said, “I hope that Wade will be able to help, it’s very important.” The Turkish squad is coming off of a blowout loss to Red Star Belgrade so there is no reason to think that Dimitris Itoudis and his crew will not want to put that defeat way behind them and will be a very difficult out for the yellow-and-blue.

There will be no fans in stands once again and yes, Maccabi clearly miss the fans and the fans miss Maccabi. But the two need to work together as best as they can now with support on social media, messages and whatever else they can do or else this Euroleague season will be heading the wrong way on a one way street very, very quickly.

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