NEW YORK — Before an exhibition game against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, Maccabi Ra’anana coach Yehu Orland said that he was “sitting here, trying not to cry, because my heart is broken.” Orland was wearing a polo shirt with “R.I.P. ELI FOREVER IN MY HEART” inscribed under Ra’anana’s logo.
“I lost one of my best friends two days ago in the war,” Orland said of the Israel-Hamas war that began last Saturday. “For me, it’s a personal tragedy. But for our country, it’s everybody’s tragedy.”
Orland said that his friend, Eli Ginsberg, had served in the Israeli military for 23 years, but retired a month ago. “Even though he finished serving the army, as soon as the war started, he packed his stuff,” Orland said. Ginsberg’s funeral was Thursday.
“For sure I’m sad and my world is down,” Orland said, adding that he wants to keep “my head up to create hope for those children, for those teenagers, for those young people that they need hope” in Israel.
After the game, a 135-103 victory for Brooklyn, Orland said that he “cried a little bit” during Israel’s national anthem, which was performed pregame by Israeli singer Noa Kirel, draped in the flag. “But that’s OK with me. I”m going to be OK.” Orland said that it was “really good to see” smiles on some of his players’ faces, “the Israeli guys especially. I’m not sure if it was a smile of happiness — maybe it was a smile of not focused on the situation in Israel and do what they like to do.”
Ra’anana forward Jonathan Mor said, “Both of my brothers are down there. Some of my best friends are fighting. We’ve been checking in. So far, so good, at least for me and the guys here. But it’s our people. And the things that are coming out there is things that no human being is supposed to even look at.” He said that the game was “incredible for us” and “hopefully it was good also for the Israelis who showed up, for the Jewish people who showed up, maybe whoever saw it back home.
“I’m not gonna lie: Basketball was secondary in the last week or so,” Mor continued. “But I can tell [you] that I haven’t seen the guys on the team smile prior to today in the last five days. I did see smiles today.”
The team arrived in the United States last Wednesday, Jeff Rosen, its lead sponsor, said. It intends to complete its three-game trip, with preseason games scheduled against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves next week.
“I think the shock of the war impacted [us] in unpredictable ways,” Rosen said. “I think everyone had personal challenges almost immediately, and yet we caucused as a group, as management and with the players. And I think we reached the conclusion pretty quickly that we felt it was in [our] best interest to continue the trip. And most of our players thought about it and some thought about leaving. As it turned out, just one player went back.”
Rosen said that Ra’anana is “proud to be here with our friends and allies and participating in friendship and peaceful activities like sports, under the sad backdrop of such a ferocious and horrible war.”
At practice on Wednesday, Nets center Nic Claxton said, “We feel for the players that we’re playing against. I don’t know if we should be playing the game. Personally, I don’t think we should be playing the game. But we feel for them and we’re going to go out there and do our job.” Claxton added, “There’s bigger things in the world going on than basketball.”
Brooklyn coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that the team had “talked about just being able to have compassion, to try to educate yourself on what’s going on.” Vaughn added that “we talked about how grateful we are that we do get an opportunity to play tonight.”