Whatever happens, Twitter will be flooded next week with a tweet saying "Love never fails." Tomer Ginat (Photo: Kobi Eliyahu)
No matter who wins the national basketball championship, there will be one sentence that will be pulled from the archive and resonate prominently on social media – for better or for worse. "Love never fails," Tomer Ginat announced the decision to refuse Maccabi Tel Aviv's offer and sign for five years at Hapoel Tel Aviv.
The week leading up to this step was one of the hardest of Ginat's life. On the one hand were his love for the club where he played and broke through, and his strong connection with the Reds; On the other hand, he was presented with a tempting financial offer from the other side of the city, almost double that made by the worker.
In real time, almost all the professionals advised Ginat to choose Maccabi, not to be afraid of drying on the bench - and after two years as a foreigner in a Metropolitans uniform in the Eurocup, to try himself at the highest levels. But Hapoel Tel Aviv exerted an almost inhumane pressure system. The team tried to convince him constantly, and there were also quite a few fans who did not shy away from any element (including threats, according to what Ginat later revealed in interviews), and the forward eventually chose red.
Hapoel Tel Aviv knew from the first moment that this was a step that could put Ginat firmly and clearly into the club's history books. This week, he could break a streak of 54 years without a championship, and more at the expense of the team he rejected, and complete his status as an icon, perhaps the greatest since Barry Leibovitz, considered the greatest player of all time.
"Tomer went with his heart and is willing to pay the price. That says a lot about him." Shimon Amsalem in 1993 (Photo: Maariv, Adi Avishai)
In many conversations with club officials, comparisons arise between Ginat and players who were identified with Hapoel and moved on to its sworn rivals - such as Tomer Steinhauer and Meir Tapiro (who did not wear yellow in the end) in basketball, or Shimon Gershon and Eran Zahavi in soccer. Some were forgiven, and others became assigned.
"There is no doubt that Tomer Ginat has become a symbol in Hapoel Tel Aviv," says Shimon Amsalem, a great symbol in red in his own right, who hoisted the team's last title, the State Cup in 1993. "It started even before he left for Europe, and intensified when he gave up an opportunity to go to a bigger club with a lot of money and exposure, and play in the Euroleague. What he did is unacceptable in the 40-30 years I've known Israeli basketball. And someone who goes with his heart and is willing to pay that price, that says a lot about him."
The person who has seen all the symbols of Hapoel Tel Aviv since Leibowitz is Yedidia Rappaport. The former owner, Sheba, went and returned in several different terms, was one of those who brought the garden from Kiryat Ata in Leumit. "Tomer came to Hapoel out of nowhere, got a chance and took it. He connected with the audience, proving that Hapoel Tel Aviv really happened to him, and not through his bank account. When he signed for France, he called me to apologize for leaving, and when he came back, he could have made a lot more money. After all, at Maccabi he would receive any amount he could think of. But Tomer is different. He's back for a smaller amount of money, he's the one who talks about everything that bothers him at the club, he's the player who will accept strangers and get them into the team as smoothly as possible. He is the one who represents Hapoel Tel Aviv."
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This story did not begin to be written this year. Tomer Ginat in front of Guy Pnini in the 2016 Derby (Photo: Bernie Ardov)
One thing is agreed upon in the sporting world: symbols are a phenomenon that is disappearing from the landscape. If in the past it was possible to assign one or two symbols to each group at a time, today there are many groups that have not known a symbol for decades. Looking at the current generation, those who are candidates to be considered icons in Israeli sports are Ginat at Hapoel Tel Aviv, Tal Dan at Ironi Nes Ziona, Guy Pnini at Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball and Sharan Yeni at Maccabi Tel Aviv Soccer.
These names aren't always flashy. In an attempt to come up with the definition of a symbol, one of Ginat's friends said that he thought it was more about the way the player touches the fans and what he makes them feel. "In principle, I don't believe in symbols, but in people," Rappaport says. "The first sergeant I encountered was Amos Frishman. He took his feet and went to Hapoel Holon for a year, and he can admit for himself who Rappaport was for him and his family. But the great sergeant took his feet and left. Until that moment I thought there were symbols, and from that moment my dream faded. There are people, human beings, gardeners. The person in him is much more than a symbol."
Amsalem tries to explain what makes an actor identified with Hapoel Tel Aviv. "Reaching the State Cup finals and the playoff finals turns the fans on, but Hapoel's audience isn't only interested in successes and victories. He's interested in seeing people who put their heart on the court, who don't rattle. This is exactly Tomer Ginat - less talking and more doing. He is a special man, who fits the worker like a glove. Tomer needs Hapoel Tel Aviv to build his path to success, and Hapoel Tel Aviv needs Tomer because he is the actor and character that represents it."
There is interest from Europe for next season as well, but he is not going. Last year's garden at the Metropolitans (Photo: official website, Eurocup website)
Hapoel Tel Aviv say that something very radical needs to happen so that Ginat will not end his career as an icon at the club, even if he leaves at some point in the future. His contract has the option of going to Europe every season, and there is also a lot of interest surrounding him ahead of next season. But Ginat doesn't intend to go anywhere.
The final series against Maccabi Tel Aviv, which opens tonight (Thursday, 21:15), is his chance to put his stamp on something that many before him tried and failed to make. From Mike Largy to Frishman and Amsalem to Matan Naor - the icons most identified with the club did not win a championship, and Leibowitz did so in practice in 1969 as a coach rather than a player. "If Tomer brings a championship in the same season that he rejected Maccabi, it will only increase and intensify the myth," agree Hapoel Tel Aviv.
In the meantime, Ginat's responsibility is to be a representative symbol of the Reds, "in terms of visibility, speech, presence," Amsalem explains. "The ability to stand in front of the audience and separate it from everything that's happening there, that's part of his job. Players tend to get carried away by the fans and noise, but the responsibility is to say that the club and the game are above everything. You have to remember that Hapoel Tel Aviv is not just a basketball team. This is a community that needs someone to lead it. We want people like Tomer, who phrases himself the way he does, reacts the way he reacts to events, and not just on the basketball court. It's really there."
- Tomer Ginat
- Hapoel Tel Aviv Basketball