Maccabi Tel Aviv's fans exult in Euroleague victory
Pop singer Shiri Maimon is Israel's entry to this year's Eurovision contest in Kiev, Ukraine
Photo: Alex Lipkin
Two events are causing intense and continuing interest locally, and neither has to do with the increasingly heated fight over disengagement from Gaza or even the tawdry diplomatic episode in Washington that somehow has dragged Ms. Madonna Ciccone into the middle of it.Alan D. Abbey is Editor and Managing Director of Ynetnews
I'm talking about the Euroleague basketball championship and the Eurovision song contest. These two events are big news here, but I challenge any American to tell me what either of them is about or who is in them.
First, there was great excitement when Maccabi Tel Aviv, the perennial domestic basketball league champions, took its second straight Euroleague victory last week over Tau Victoria of Spain in Moscow. You haven't heard of either team? Try CSKA Moscow and Panathanaikos of Greece, the other contenders in the Euroleague Final Four.
Not quite the NBA
Euroleague basketball is improving in quality, but the quality is still far below the NBA. The presence of numerous not-quite-good-enough-for-the-NBA American players on each of the teams has changed the games', uh, complexion in several ways: it's a faster, more American style of play, and is more vertical and above the rim.
Eurovision is a similarly Euro-centric event. It is an annual competition among countries for the best pop song of the year. Alumni of the event who have made it in the mainstream pop world include Abba and Celine Dion. But the vast majority of singers, from every country in a broadly defined Europe (which includes Israel and Turkey), never make it big out of their home countries, even though most of them sing in English these days, as will our entrant, Shiri Maimon, despite her earlier protestations to the contrary.
Israel is a sometime champion of the event, most recently in 1998, on the broad back of transsexual diva Dana International, who has gone on to modest Euro-stardom since then. She has even been known to caress Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on occasion at public events.
In the last few years, our singers have fared poorly, and many suggest it has been the political situation more than the songs' and singers' quality (or lack thereof) that is responsible. Perhaps. But last year's entry was execrable, and even top local diva Sarit Hadad couldn't breathe life into her limp entry three years ago.
Eurovision a bigger deal for some
One difference between the two is that Euroleague hoops is decidedly small-time in the larger world. It was front page news here for days, but was barely covered by the European press, which is obsessed by soccer, uh, football. The "International Herald Tribune" dismissed the finals with a brief wire service item. Sports-crazed Spanish papers buried it, too.
Eurovision, on the other hand, is a big deal. No less than the BBC is giving it full-blown coverage, even though the quality of the songs is generally well below that even of America's lowest-level pop tarts, like Jessica Simpson.
The connection between the two is the intense local interest. We crave recognition from the outside world, and we desire to be on equal footing with other countries. So when our teams or singers are competing against Europe's best - and sometimes even winning - our chests swell with pride and our fragile egos are stroked.
It's an object lesson for Americans to know of the insecurities of a small nation through the breathless way we follow these rather cheesy events.
My Eurovision prediction: We'll do better than last year. The reasons: a slightly better song, a much cuter singer and an improved political situation. But we have no chance of winning.
Wish us luck in Eurovision this weekend.