David Blatt and the Cleveland Cavaliers have advanced to the NBA finals with a decisive sweep of the Atlanta Hawks and a 118 to 88 trumping in the final game of the Eastern Conference finals last night. This marks only the second time in the franchise’s 45 year history that it has made it to the NBA finals and it has never won a championship.
It last made it to the finals in 2007, when it was swept in 4 games by San Antonio.
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So much of the credit certainly should go to the team’s rookie head coach, Israeli David Blatt, right? Well maybe not. Fans and commentators alike are giving most of the credit to LeBron James, who returned to Cleveland this season after four years in Miami where he won two championships.
Israelis and Jews around the world proudly followed the American born Blatt’s ascension to the NBA. He had played professionally in Israel and coached its Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team to championships in the European champions’ league.
In fact, Shawn Evenhaim, chairman of the Israeli-American Council (IAC), the largest Israeli-American organization in the U.S., issued the following statement about the Cleveland Cavaliers’ winning the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs and reaching the NBA finals.
“On behalf of all Israeli Americans in the United States, we congratulate David Blatt, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the City of Cleveland on their thrilling victory as Eastern Conference champions of the NBA, ” said Evenhaim. “David is an Israeli-American success story – a true leader and role model who symbolizes our love for both Israel and the U.S.”
But since coming to Cleveland Blatt has been criticized for lacking passion, having a poor relationship with his players – especially James – and for letting James lead the team for him.
Late in last night’s clinching victory Blatt visibly failed to accept an attempted hand shake from James. This came after Blatt had whispered something into James’ ear. Commentators have been describing this as a “dis” on Blatt’s part. But they are clearly reading too much into this as footage shows that Blatt may not have even seen James stretch out his hand after the two men had already embraced.
Blatt had told James, “I just want to tell you, man. What you did for this team and for this city, coming back and doing what you did. You deserve this. You deserve it. Let’s keep going.”
Certainly Blatt, whatever happens in the finals, has proven himself in the NBA and has job security for at least next season.
At the post-game press conference Blatt said of his team, “It’s a lot of things. We have a terrific staff and group of coaches that are working hard every day and preparing every day and giving these guys the best of guidance. We have a group of players who have a lot of grit and character and we have a champion who leads them. In the right way. A guy who is not only a fabulous basketball player, but an experienced winner, who is about the right things and who leads his guys in a way that empowers them and doesn’t belittle them, in a way that lifts them … I just think we really play hard. Even when we’re not great, we’re still playing hard and we have been. Since January I don’t know there’s a harder playing team. That takes you a long way.”
About his personal struggles Blatt said, “I know it’s hard for people to understand because they don’t really know well my path and career. But you know this also is a new situation for me and a new place for me. LeBron came home. I left home to come here. And I left a lot of people that I love dearly and a lot of people I’m so close to in order to pursue a dream, in order to do something in my career that I hadn’t had the opportunity to do. That’s a big sacrifice on the part of my family and the place I’m from. It’s special because it’s all worthwhile.
“I came here, had the opportunity to work with a great group of guys, with the best player in the world, maybe in the history of the game, with wonderful management that has given us every opportunity to succeed, and fans that are so loyal and have been for so many years, who just want a champion. So it makes me very happy and proud to be a part of that and have this experience in my life.”