About 20 students and community members gathered Tuesday night in the Green Auditorium at Hillel to watch the documentary “On the Map,” which details the story of Tal Brody and the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team that beat the heavily favored CSKA Moskva in the semifinals of the European Basketball Championship in 1977. Brody himself introduced the movie and answered questions from the students about his journey from a former NBA first-round pick to the captain of Maccabi Tel Aviv.
For the documentary, released last summer, filmmaker Dani Menkin interviewed several people who experienced Maccabi Tel Aviv’s historic run. Many said they saw the game between the Israelis and the Soviets as a battle of capitalism versus communism. Former NBA commissioner David Stern, who was featured in the film, analyzed the game in an even more extreme way.
“It was playing against the enemy of the Western world,” Stern said.
The title of the film originates from Brody’s famous words after Maccabi Tel Aviv’s victory in the final game: “We are on the map! And we are staying on the map — not only in sports but in everything!”
Kinesiology sophomore Jonathan Greenspoon, who is involved with Hillel, had the idea to bring Brody to Ann Arbor after he saw the movie upon its initial release.
“I reached out to the organizer of the movie — the people who manage the screening — independently of (LSA junior Natan Gorod),” Greenspoon said. “I told her, ‘I’d love to bring to this to Michigan.’ Natan had done the same. The organizer told me that we should work on this together because we had no idea that each of us had reached out independently. We connected, we started brainstorming and we hit the ground running.”
During his introduction of the film, Brody gave an overview of his life: Born in Trenton, N.J., he had a successful career as a high-school basketball player before starting for the University of Illinois for three seasons — freshmen were not allowed to play varsity — and eventually heard his name called in the NBA draft for the Baltimore Bullets.
After competing in the Maccabiah Games — the Jewish Olympics — in Israel in the summer of 1965, Brody was persuaded by the leaders of Maccabi Tel Aviv to come play for their organization in order to help elevate Israeli basketball, which needed a star to be taken seriously.
Ultimately, Brody abandoned his NBA prospects and returned to Israel to “take up that challenge,” as he explained at Hillel.
Brody’s decision to forgo his NBA prospects inspires Greenspoon.
“He gave up on what some would call the American dream for something far greater,” Greenspoon said. “People see the NBA as the ultimate prize. But he had a deeper mission in mind and this was something deep inside of him that he was yearning to do. He would’ve made more in the NBA but he gave it up because he had this innate desire to serve his homeland, which I greatly admire.”
For LSA senior Jesse Dorbian, the film allowed him to learn more about the culture of basketball in Israel.
“It was pretty interesting to see Tal Brody speak and watch the movie because coming here, I’ve only known a little bit about Israeli basketball because of a relative who was a coach for Maccabi Tel Aviv,” Dorbian said. “I came here wanting to learn more. At the end of the event, I went up to Tal and he actually knew my great uncle, which was pretty cool.”
Even after they defeated CSKA Moscow, however, Maccabi still needed to play the high-ranking Mobilgirgi Varese basketball team, who beat the Israelis in one of the earlier rounds of the championship. The game came down to the final seconds before Maccabi ultimately held on for the win, the team’s first-ever European championship.
“That was my favorite part, how nerve-wracking it was at the end of the championship game between Maccabi and (Varese) in the European championship game,” Dorbian said. “How it came down to a travel in the last 12 seconds. The suspense of how everyone was so into it, (then-Israeli Prime Minister) Yitzhak Rabin couldn’t even resign because everyone (in the country) came together to watch.”
Dorbian is referencing a scene recounted in Menkin’s documentary. With Rabin choosing to resign because of a financial scandal, the television broadcasters begged him to wait because of the importance of a basketball game, the European championship, an event that seemed nearly impossible to Israeli fans before Brody’s arrival.
Dorbian said Brody’s impact was widespread.
“Before the film started, Israelis from the community came in and said, ‘(Former Michigan quarterback) Tom Brady, he’s nothing’ (in comparison to Tal Brody),” he said. “ ‘He’s compatible to the Michael Jordan of Israel.’ I think that’s so awesome and amazing. and that he’s here in Ann Arbor, on a Tuesday night.”