Maccabi Tel Aviv isn’t just a basketball team. It’s the epitome of Israel’s patriotism, the pride and joy of every sabra. The club has won 51 Israeli Championships during the competition’s 63 years of existence—claiming the title almost every season, and missing only one trophy between 1970 and 2007. They’re also major hitters on the international stage, with six European Championship titles, including that historic 1977 win of CSKA Moscow which had Israelis dancing in the streets as if they’d won the Cold War, not a basketball tournament. And now, in another major first that’s as much about geopolitics as it is about sports, the team announced yesterday that it has signed its first ever Arab-Israeli player.
Karam Mashour, 25, a six feet four inches small forward from an Arab-Christian family in Nazareth, signed a two-year deal with an option for a third season. He started playing basketball at the YMCA in his hometown when he was 13, and after playing at the college level for Morehead State in Kentucky and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas—and, sadly, being passed over by the NBA—Mashour joined Bnei Herzliya in Israel’s premier league. It was hard for Maccabi Tel Aviv not to notice him: He helped Bnei Herzliya destroy them in three separate season meetings last year, averaging at 14.5 points and 10.3 rebounds a game. Mashour also would have been central to Bnei Herzliya’s win over Maccabi Tel Aviv in the quarterfinals if he hadn’t been sidelined for a shoulder injury. But despite that shoulder injury, and despite the fact that the season wasn’t even over yet, Maccabi Tel Aviv insisted on taking Mashour. He is that good.
And he got that good despite the fact that, growing up, almost no one in his soccer-obsessed community cared about basketball. “I remember, they tried to do a basketball tournament once at the community center but had to cancel it,” Mashour told The New York Times last year. No one wanted to actually play right.”
Mashour is also a candidate to play for the Israeli national team at EuroBasket 2017. So like the rest of Maccabi Tel Aviv, he will now be the face of Israel.