The Cleveland Cavaliers lost most of their Israeli fans overnight after news broke over the weekend that American-Israeli coach David Blatt had been fired.
The surprise announcement came on Friday and quickly overtook headlines in Israel, where Blatt, originally from Boston, raised his family and made his name in the world of athletics. Israel’s particular pride in Blatt’s achievements had earned the Cavs the support of millions of Israeli NBA fans throughout the country during his one-and-a-half year tenure as coach.
Blatt had been unquestionably successful in the role, leading his team to the NBA finals last year and to the top of the Eastern Conference this year. However, rumor has it that his firing was due to personal, and not professional reasons; the coach was known to have a rocky relationship with his star player, LeBron James.
Israelis expressed their anger at James on broadcasts and social media all weekend, blaming him directly for ending Blatt’s season and accusing the Cavaliers of giving Blatt a cold sendoff.
They were not alone in their condemnation of the team. NBA coaches throughout the league made statements speaking out against the firing. Most said that it had nothing to do with his excellent abilities as a coach, but with circumstances beyond his control.
Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy said of the incident, “It’s embarrassing for the league . . . you’re supposed to win. He did. And now he’s still getting fired. So it’s hard to figure out what it’s about anymore.”
He said that Blatt’s firing “elevated all of the coach firings into the theater of the absurd.”
“He is a heck of a coach [but] circumstances often dictate what happens to certain coaches that have nothing to do with their record,” said Gregg Popovich, the dean of NBA coaches.
Rick Carlisle, the coach of the Dallas Mavericks, echoed Gundy when he said, “I’m embarrassed for our league that something like this could happen.” Blatt had “done some phenomenal things” for the league, Carlisle said.
However, Blatt had little reason to worry, said Boston coach Brad Stevens. “I would think he’s not going to be unemployed long. He’s a heck of a coach now,” he said.
Blatt, 56, moved to Israel from the US in 1981, where he had a playing career in the Israeli basketball league before turning to coaching and making his name as a top international coach, all while raising a family of four in Israel. He led the Russian national team to a bronze Olympic medal in 2012 before becoming coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014. Almost instantly, Israel rallied behind the Cavs, adopting the team as its national NBA favorite in honor of Blatt.
But this latest move has likely destroyed all of Israel’s goodwill for the Cavs.
“Last night, at 10:30, seven million Israelis, at least, sat in their living rooms and rooted for Cleveland,” wrote Sharon Davidovitch, a sports columnist on Ynet, on Saturday. “At 11:30 there were probably only about seven left. Tops.”