The city of Tel Aviv was transformed into a sea of yellow and blue on Monday evening as tens of thousands of delirious fans welcomed home newly crowned Turkish Airlines Euroleague champion Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv. Rabin Square in the center of the city was packed with Maccabi supporters celebrating their team’s stunning 98-86 overtime triumph over Real Madrid at the Final Four in Milan the night before.
The Maccabi players joined coach David Blatt and team management on a specially erected stage to show off the Euroleague trophy, won so dramatically in Sunday’s final.
With the Queen classic "We are the Champions" playing in the background, a clearly elated Blatt told the crowd: "This cup might have been won by Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv, but it belongs to all of you, because you deserve it. Thank you with all our heart for your support, for your love and for the yellow heart."
After all of the players entered the stage individually, fireworks were set off as captain Guy Pnini and veteran forward David Blu once again raised the Euroleague trophy to the delight of the crowd. Sunday’s win marked the sixth time Maccabi Tel Aviv has been won a continental crown in Europe, and the first time since 2005.
There was a festive atmosphere in the square with the fans waving flags, cheering, singing and dancing for the second night in a row. The celebrations were, however, played out in a far more organized fashion than the spontaneous outpouring of joy seen in the same square on Sunday night. Within minutes of the final buzzer thousands had filled the city center landmark, with many jumping into the square's fountain in scenes reminiscent of the reaction to the first time Maccabi won the European championship in 1977.
On Monday, the Tel Aviv municipality building, which overlooks Rabin Square, was lit up with yellow and blue flashing lights alternately spelling out Maccabi Tel Aviv and showing the Israeli flag. Before making their way to the stage the Maccabi players and staff met with city Mayor Ron Huldai on the roof of the municipality building. Recalling the movie Fiddler on the Roof where the main character continuously asks God for a miracle, Huldai thanked the team for bringing a "miracle" to the city with the Euroleague championship game win.
Earlier Monday hundreds of fans filled Ben Gurion airport to catch a glimpse of their heroes landing back in Israel. As the team left the plane, Pnini held the Euroleague trophy aloft. Club chairman Shimon Mizrahi thanked the fans and lauded the "incredible team spirit" shown by the players on the way to their victory over Real Madrid. Wearing dark glasses, Coach Blatt spoke of his pride at bringing happiness to the Israeli people. "It is a special feeling and we are happy we can make so many people happy."
En route from the airport to the square the team paid a visit to the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who hugged Coach Blatt as he entered the room. "This is fantastic," Netanyahu said as he congratulated finals MVP Tyrese Rice. Then the prime minister laughed with Mizrahi. "I saw you smile," he told the famously poker-faced Maccabi chairman. "Unbelievable. I was very proud," Netanyahu said to the whole team. "You were all absolutely magnificent."
Blatt told Netanyahu: "The aim of us at Maccabi is to bring happiness to everyone and to be an example. Thank you, and we are happy you are with us."