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December 5, 2016 5:50 pm

New Film Tells Story of How Underdog Basketball Team Put Israel ‘On The Map’ After Yom Kippur War

avatar by Barney Breen-Portnoy

American-Israeli basketball star Tal Brody speaks with a reporter following Maccabi Tel Aviv's win over CSKA Moscow in February 1977. Photo: Screenshot.

American-Israeli basketball star Tal Brody speaks with a reporter following Maccabi Tel Aviv’s upset win over CSKA Moscow in February 1977. Photo: Screenshot.

“We are on the map and we will stay on the map, not only in sports but in everything!”

Those powerful words — uttered by American-Israeli basketball star Tal Brody — encapsulated the sentiments of an entire nation following underdog Maccabi Tel Aviv’s upset victory over powerhouse CSKA Moscow in the 1977 European Cup semi-finals.

Maccabi, led by Brody, would go on to win its first European title by defeating Mobilgirgi Varese two months later. The team’s dramatic success — which uplifted a small and battered Israel still reeling from the Yom Kippur War — has now been brought back to life in a new documentary film “On The Map,” directed by Dani Menkin.

“It has never been forgotten here,” the still-fit 73-year-old Brody told The Algemeiner in a telephone interview last week from his home in Israel as he worked out on his treadmill. “Maccabi has won five European titles since then, but you always remember your first love and for forty years we’ve been remembered like that in Israel. It’s amazing. It left a stamp. It was a win with very heavy meaning for generations.”

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Brody said he was happy the story was now being told to the English-speaking world via the film, which focuses on the team’s six American players.

“Each time I’ve seen it, it has given me goose pimples,” he said.

The semi-final match against CSKA Moscow — whose roster featured the best players from across the Soviet Union — was played in a tiny gymnasium in Belgium, as, for political reasons, the Russians would not allow the game to be held in Tel Aviv or Moscow.

“To think that we could beat this team, it was something illusionary or a dream,” Brody said. “As sportsmen, you always go into a game feeling like you have a chance to win, but our fans were just hoping we wouldn’t be embarrassed. Yet every Israeli and Jewish person in Europe tried to find that gymnasium, and they did. So we had not only the majority, but around 99% of the people in that gymnasium were rooting and cheering for us, with Israeli flags. That gave us spirit, confidence and adrenaline. And the Russians were really shell-shocked, they had never been in an atmosphere like that.”

Maccabi ended up winning the game 91-79 and Brody was carried off the court on the shoulders of ecstatic fans.

Menkin, who was born and raised in Israel and now lives in Los Angeles, told The Algemeiner, “I grew up with this story. The team was like a ray of light after the Yom Kippur War. I was just amazed that there wasn’t a movie about it. I’m really encouraged by the fact that so many Americans are loving the film and are seeing a positive story about Israel, which is not something they usually get in the news.”

The events portrayed in the film, Menkin said, are “kind of like a ‘Forrest Gump’ of Israeli history. It’s an intersection that combines so many things in our journey and our destiny, including figures like Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin, the Russians and the Cold War, and the peace process with Egypt. So within this sports drama, it was not just a game. It was much bigger than sports.”

Referring to Brody, Menkin said, “If there are still people like him out there, can you find them and please let me know? He is somebody who gave up the NBA to play in Israel. And for many Israelis, his iconic statement, ‘We are on the map,’ has become an 11th commandment. It’s beautiful how from the sports world, you can affect so many people.”

The 85-minute film includes never-before-seen footage and interviews with prominent American basketball figures Bill Walton, David Stern and Digger Phelps.

Nancy Spielberg — one of the film’s executive producers — told The Algemeiner, “Roberta Grossman [the film’s other executive producer] and I loved the nuanced feel-good story about Israel. We loved the feeling of Jewish pride…A key message I wanted out there was two-fold — first, there are those who want to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist and they will not win, just like the Soviets who refused to recognize Israel…That’s very current for today with the BDS movement. That’s just not going to happen. We’re never going to let that happen. We will be victorious, we will stay on the map, no matter what. And secondly, personally, I loved the cooperative American-Israeli effort to rise above what lays in front of us — the hardship and the obstacles.”

Furthermore, Spielberg said, “I’m absolutely not a basketball fan, but you don’t have to be a basketball fan to love this film. Because the energy and the message, it makes you cry and stand taller at the same time. It’s really wonderful. At screenings, I’ve sat next to big men who’ve cried out of pride. I love to see big men cry.”

Brody said, “I think people who watch the film see another face of Israel which they haven’t ever seen before. They see the real spirit of Israel. They see why people are so happy here. What do you see on the television about Israel? Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Iraq you see everything that is happening around us and you don’t really see what we have in Israel, the life we have here.”

“On The Map” will open at Cinema Village in New York City this Friday. A full list of upcoming screenings can be found here.

Watch the “On The Map” trailer below:


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