Unicaja Malaga fans will get to watch their team challenge for the Basketball Champions League title in their own arena but the decision is shrouded in drama as Hapoel Jerusalem missed out on hosting
I am often wrong and rarely informed. I said as much last night as the expectations over where the Basketball Champions League Final Four would take place in May. Once Hapoel Jerusalem had dispatched AEK in Game 3, journalists who are always more informed than me and right far more often said it was effectively Jerusalem’s to lose.
Chatter about the matter however quickly became qualified and what seemed like an absolute lock ended in utter shock as I ended up being right [https://www.eurohoops.net/en/fiba-champions-league/1491725/malaga-to-host-the-basketball-champions-league-final-four/]. Given I had no sources and was basing the matter entirely on gut instinct that’s not a good sign. What on earth happened?
The potential sites for the Final Four were whittled down in short order. Tenerife, winners last year, have too small an arena and the same goes for Telekom Baskets Bonn. A neutral or semi-neutral site, last year’s Bilbao venue with two Spanish but non-Bilbao area clubs contesting fits the latter model, is a risky affair and preferably avoided by the BCL because ticket sales matter but so too does the presentation to broadcast partners.
A true home side in a good sized but not overly large arena to risk large empty spaces is preferable, at least at this point in the BCL’s development. That made both Malaga and Jerusalem ideal cities with strong home support and arenas that hit the sweet spot perfectly. Unicaja’s Palacio de Deportes José Maria Martin Carpena has an 11,300 capacity while Hapoel play in the 11,000 capacity Pais arena.
FIBA and the BCL like to move major events around so the idea of a second straight Final Four in Spain, was never likely to appeal. That had everything lining up in Hapoel’s favour to host it all.
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When Hapoel Jerusalem left Eurocup, Euroleague’s feeder competition, for the Basketball Champions League in its inaugural season it was a big get for the latter. FIBA’s tournament had landed a whale in the fight for legitimacy as Europe’s second most important basketball competition.
It was a team in a relatively new arena, with a strong support, and aspirations of being a big deal both in Israel and beyond. There have been Israeli championships but the road to BCL success has stuttered a bit, this will be Hapoel’s first appearance in the final four having never got beyond the quarter finals prior to this season.
It’s a very big deal and a real shot at a first European title since 2004 when they won the ULEB Cup (what Eurocup used to be called). The idea of hosting a tournament decider in their shiny arena was very appealing, both to the club and government, local and national.
There was however a big change in Hapoel just last month when Matan Adelson, the youngest son of deceased billionaire Sheldon Adelson, bought the club. As owners go, Hapoel really couldn’t ask for a better fit in terms of interest.
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Matan is a known basketball nut and wild about Israel in general, with the 24 year old having lived there for three years now. Throw in that his late father was worth somewhere around $30 billion depending on who you ask (it certainly wasn’t much lower than that and could have been an awful lot higher) and he has access to serious funding to beef up the team should he wish.
Matan however shares the dream that Hapoel’s previous ownership group had when it first came in about a decade ago. He wants Hapoel Jerusalem in Euroleague and the most direct way there is through Eurocup.
Were there no such thing as Maccabi Tel Aviv, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. The thing is the 6 time Euroleague champions and long time supreme dominators of Israeli basketball are permanent members of Euroleague.
That means, from the business side of Euroleague, there’s not much more value another Israeli team can bring to Euroleague in terms of market growth. Hapoel fans will argue their rationale but the bottom line is that Euroleague isn’t realistically handing them a licence through any form of wildcard route.
The only clear path available to Hapoel Jerusalem to play in Euroleague is to win Eurocup, where the champion is automatically promoted to the following season’s edition of Euroleague. In order to win Eurocup, Hapoel would have to play in Eurocup and this is where we get to the drama of Wednesday night.
The BCL, understandably, wants a commitment from Hapoel Jerusalem that it will keep playing in the competition next season. Adelson has a clear incentive, win or lose the final four, to make the jump to Eurocup if it is to his suiting. Generally, people of his wealth and desire prefer to set their own timelines for decisions and while it wouldn’t surprise me if Hapoel end up back in BCL this season it’s even less surprising that he wouldn’t want to commit until it suited his timeframe.
That of course won’t exactly go over amazingly well with the local government, as a city Jerusalem would have undoubtedly gone big for this given how rare it is for Israel to host international hoops events of this magnitude, especially outside of Tel Aviv. Similarly the national government would have welcomed such a good news story, especially if Hapoel go on to win it all.
Still, it’s not like Adelson is going to lose friends locally over his desire to control what happens. The family has a long history of being supportive of Israel and Matan himself is clearly of a similar view. This won’t hurt him or whatever his plan is. It’s just unfortunate that Hapoel won’t host this time around.
It’s not like it’s a bad alternative
For all the factors that mean the F4 won’t be in Jerusalem, Malaga sure is a fine alternative to land in. It’s a great arena with fans that will show up plus you can count on a few thousand fans making the trip from Jerusalem along with more than decent contingents from Bonn and Tenerife.
It’ll be a full house and Malaga will be favoured to win it all. It’s worth reminding readers that Malaga vs Tenerife was the Copa del Rey final this season with Unicaja winning a tight one. Don’t be shocked if they meet again in this final, so long as the draw doesn’t put them against each other in the semi finals.
All four possible match-ups are really tasty although my preference, based on a combination of clash of styles plus mix of fans for noise, would be Tenerife vs Bonn in the first semi-final before a main event that night between Malaga and Bonn. Whatever happens, I sadly won’t be there because the dates don’t work but it’s going to be thrilling.
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