The Palestinians are trying to get it done under American coach Jerry Steele, a Phoenix-based Christian minister (and father of ESPN reporter Samantha Ponder) who’s totally at odds with the country’s basketball federation and is having impressive success in spite of all the obstacles with three wins in the first five games of the competition – including one vs. the Filipinos. Steele talked with HoopsHype about the craziness and the rewards that comes with coaching this overachieving group of players.
Jerry Steele: These young men have been told all of their lives that they can’t be like the rest of the world. Their government, their schools and even their elders in their families constantly remind them that they are an occupied people; that Israel keeps them from being able to do anything significant and that their main purpose in life is to get back at Israel.
Jerry Steele: Federation members are, at best, basketball fans. They know nothing about what it takes to play; they know nothing about what it takes to coach; they know nothing about how to operate a program and certainly know nothing about how to develop basketball. Their top league, which they call the Super League is anything but super. Their games have a distinct resemblance to early Saturday morning pickup games among the old guys who used to play at the YMCA. Except that the guys at the “Y” at least have an idea of how to move like basketball players.
Jerry Steele: When we got to this tournament, they told the players that they could not afford to pay for their laundry. They instructed them to do their own laundry in their hotel rooms. This is while the players are still practicing twice a day and going through shirts/shorts/socks like crazy. Mind you, the federation can’t help with laundry for the guys doing all the work, but they pay for everything for their journalist and they incur $3,000 worth of fines from FIBA for being late with mandatory filings.
Jerry Steele: In Palestine, sports are just recreation to be enjoyed when you feel like it. They know nothing of commitment, perseverance or delayed gratification. Much like the urban kids we work with in Phoenix, next week is a long ways away and next month is an eternity. Next year doesn’t even exist.
Several dozen anti-Israel protesters, many of them waving Palestine flags, gathered outside Quicken Loans Arena before the Cavaliers hosted Maccabi Tel Aviv. Holding signs that read: ”Hold Israel Accountable” and ”Boycott Israel,” the protesters peacefully chanted behind barricades set up across the street from the downtown arena. Cleveland police, including several on mounted horseback, kept a watchful eye as fans made their way into the building Sunday for Cleveland’s first exhibition game.