Interview With Tal Brody, NBA Draftee Who Built Israeli Basketball
Tal Brody was a college basketball star in the 1960s, playing at the University of Illinois and winning the 1965 Big 10 championship. That year, he was drafted into the NBA by the Washington Bullets (Wizards) but instead, he decided to follow a different calling. Tal moved to Israel to play for Maccabi Tel-Aviv and help build the country’s basketball. As captain of his team, he led Maccabi to victory at the 1977 EuroCup championship, defeating the mighty Soviets in a David & Goliath face-off that in later years would be fondly referred to as “Miracle on Hardwood”. It was the first triumph for an Israeli team at the premier club tournament and a tremendous morale booster for a tiny nation that was always teetering on the edge of war. Tal’s achievement is still celebrated today and was even captured in a 2016 documentary film “On the Map”, produced by Nancy Spielberg, sister of the famed director Steven Spielberg. His contribution to American basketball didn’t end in college either. Drafted into the U.S. military during the Vietnam era, Tal also played for the armed forces and represented Team USA at the 1970 World Championships in Belgrade. Today, he serves as Israel’s Ambassador of Goodwill and helps organize games between the NBA and Israeli teams. Sports History Magazine asked Tal to share his story and shed some highlights on his basketball life.
You were an All-Star high school basketball player in Trenton, New Jersey where you grew up. Besides your height, did you inherit any sports talents from your parents or other family members? No, I was just a naturally-gifted athletic kid.
Who were your basketball heroes growing up? I admired Bob Cousy, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson.
You played point guard for the University of Illinois and won the Big-10 championship in 1965. As a Jewish kid playing high level college basketball back then, were you taunted by other players or fans? No, I didn’t run into any situations like that.
After college, you were drafted by the Washington Bullets (Wizards today), but instead you decided to stay in Israel after leading the U.S. to gold at the Maccabiah Games. Was it a difficult decision to turn down a career in the NBA? Yes, but the challenge of taking Israeli basketball to the top had a bigger appeal for me.
That same year, future Senator Bill Bradley deferred his decision to play in the NBA as well. You seem to have a lot in common with him: similar age, both were New Jersey high school and college All-Stars, and both played basketball with a higher purpose in mind. Even the way your names ring- Brody & Bradley. Were you friends with him at all over the years? We knew each other from a distance, since he played with Princeton in the Ivy League and I played with Illinois in the Big Ten. I always respected Bill for his accomplishments and met him at the NBA All-Star Weekend a few years ago.
What was the basketball scene like in Israel when you arrived to play for Maccabi Tel-Aviv in 1966? The conditions were very primitive, but I knew that if we succeeded then they would improve more and more with our success.
Prominent Israeli politicians and military generals started coming to your games, including Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. How did you feel knowing that you were elevating the caliber of Israeli basketball and the country’s morale? This was the major factor why I stayed in Israel, since I saw my presence there as more than just playing basketball. It was of major importance to the morale and spirit of the country in difficult times.
Israel's biggest international sports moment came when you led Maccabi Tel-Aviv to victory at the 1977 FIBA European Champions Cup (EuroLeague). In the semi-finals, you beat the favored Soviets who at the time were boycotting Israel, and then at the final you defeated an Italian team by a single point. Does that miracle still resonate today with Israelis? Yes, it does. That 1977 season is also memorialized in the 2016 documentary film “On the Map” that was directed by Dani Menkin and produced by Nancy Spielberg.
After dispatching the mighty Soviets on the court, you screamed in elation to reporters on the mic: "We are on the map!...and we are staying on the map!...not only in sports, but in everything!" What was the reaction from the world media to that enduring line? They admired us and felt inspired.
In Israel, you served in the army but most people don't know that you actually came back to the U.S. to serve in the American military as well during the Vietnam era. How was that experience and did you play ball in the forces? When I was called up, I knew it was my duty and obligation to serve the country that educated me and was home to my family and friends. I was fortunate to be chosen to the All- Army and Armed Forces teams and then 7 of us were also selected to play for Team USA at the 1970 World Championships in Belgrade. Bill Walton joined our selection team as well.
Israel today is a modern, developed country with a vibrant sports scene. It is also a very diverse society encompassing Jews, Arabs, and Christians. Do Israeli Arabs take an interest in playing basketball? Yes. They play and participate in most sports, and also play in the leagues and the different National Teams.
Today, you are Israel's international Goodwill Ambassador. As you travel around the world and meet people, what do you tell them about the country in the context of international sports? I tell them that we are the sports capital of the Middle East.
BASEBALL April 2, 2010 Former MLB pitcher Mike Cuellar dies at the age of 72. A 2x World Series champion and 4x All-Star, Cuellar started off with the Cincinnati Reds in 1959 and played for 5 teams, spending the most years with the Baltimore Orioles. He won the AL Cy Young award in his first season with the dynastic Orioles and was their starting pitcher at the 1969 World Series against the NY Mets. Cuellar closed his career with an ERA of 3.14 and 1,632 strikeouts.
BASKETBALL April 2, 2000 At the 19th Women’s NCAA Basketball Championship, the Connecticut Huskies defeat the Tennessee Volunteers 71-52. Led by their famed coach Geno Auriemma, the Huskies claimed their second national title. They would win another 9 championships and become the nation’s most successful women’s basketball program to date. The Connecticut ladies dispatched Penn State at the Semi-finals before taking on Tennessee for the crown.
GOLF April 8, 1990 Nick Faldo wins the 54th annual Masters Tournament held in Augusta, Georgia. Shooting a 278 (-10) and tying Raymond Floyd in the final round after the latter bogeyed on the 16th hole, Faldo emerged victorious in the playoff showdown. It was his second consecutive win at the Masters and third of what would be six career majors. Born in Herdforshire, England, Faldo turned pro in 1976 and has won more majors than any other modern European golfer.
OLYMPICS April 12, 1980 The U.S. Olympic committee announces their boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. A total of 66 countries chose not to attend the games due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, 80 other nations did agree to send their athletes to the first Olympics that were held in a communist country. Four years later, the Russians and their East European allies would follow-up with a boycott of the Los Angeles games.