Will Israeli-American Cavaliers Coach, Ousted Mid-Season, Receive Championship Ring as Team Wins First-Time NBA Title?
Just a year ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who won their first-ever NBA title on Sunday night, were Israel’s team.
But that all changed in January, when, despite an Eastern Conference-best 30-11 record, the Cavs fired their Israeli-American head coach David Blatt mid-season and replaced him with Blatt’s top assistant, Tyronn Lue.
Many observers, particularly in Israel, felt Blatt’s firing was unwarranted. So while large numbers of Israelis stayed up until the wee hours of the morning last June to root on Blatt’s Cavs in their battle against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals (the Cavs ended up losing that series 4-2), fewer Israelis forwent sleep this year for the rematch and those who did were likely rooting for the Warriors out of allegiance to the jilted Blatt.
In a text message to basketball reporter David Pick on Monday, Blatt was magnanimous, congratulating the Cavs on their championship victory. Blatt called the title “an enormous accomplishment for the organization” and a “a special and historic moment for Cleveland.”
Blatt, a 57-year-old Princeton graduate who immigrated to Israel in the 1980s, became a beloved figure among many Israeli basketball fans when he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to a Euroleague title in May 2014. A month later, he was hired by the Cavs.
In an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth last week, Blatt, who was recently hired as the new head coach of Darussafaka Dogus (a Euroleague team based in Istanbul), said he could not bear watching the NBA Finals.
“I settle on reading the results on the internet,” he said.
Blatt is still mystified about why he was fired by the Cavs. “I can’t think of any reason in the world,” he said. “Maybe for them, thinking forward, I wasn’t the person to lead. It hurt me very bad. It surprised me. I didn’t feel well, but you move on. There are disappointments in life, the question is what you do when take a blow.”
It is widely believed that Blatt’s fraught relationship with Cavs superstar Lebron James played a role in his firing. Speaking about James, Blatt said, “You must learn to work with people like him. This takes time. There are a lot of things I would have done differently, with him included. In the reality of the NBA and this team, there is no doubt that LeBron is the center. He is the cornerstone of the club. There is no doubt that LeBron was more important to the system than me.”
The only remaining question now regarding Blatt and the Cavs is whether Blatt will be given a championship ring, since he led the team during the first half of season. That is up to the Cavs and the answer was unknown as of Monday.