One of Europe's most legendary basketball coaches, Ralph Klein, passed away at the age of 77 in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Thursday morning. Klein suffered from cancer for the past four years, and on Thursday his last battle came to an end. The sum of his career includes one Euroleague title and one Euroleague finalist spot in addition to winning 14 national championships, all with Maccabi, and 10 national cups in Israel.
Klein was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1931. His father died in the Holocaust, but Ralph and the rest of his close family survived before moving to Israel in 1951 to become one of the pioneers of the sport in the country. He joined Maccabi Tel Aviv and later the national team where he played successfully during the 1950s and early 1960s before turning to coaching. He was known for his great shooting and was one of the top five scorers at EuroBasket 1959. In 1970 he took on the prestigious job as the bench boss of Maccabi, which was his first out of five stints as the club's coach. In 1977, he led the Israeli club to its first Euroleague title ever, when Maccabi beat Varese 78-77 in the final in Belgrade, Serbia. That season was the first in which Maccabi played in the Euroleague's final group, and on the way there it beat CSKA Moscow 91-79 in the first encounter of what would become a great rivalry at the top of the sport. Those two wins changed the face of basketball and Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel, turning it into a national celebration. Two years later Klein led the Israeli national team to the finals of EuroBasket 1979, where it lost to the Soviet Union. On the way to its first and - so far - only final, Israel shocked Yugoslavia, the world champs at the time. Klein moved on to coach several other teams in Israel, before leading Maccabi once again to the finals of the Euroleague in 1980, 1982 and 1988, where it lost to Real Madrid, Cantu and Tracer Milano, respectively. That 1988 loss against Milano was Klein's last Euroleague final, but certainly not his last Euroleague season. After campaigns with several teams, including arch-rivals Hapoel Tel Aviv, with whom he won an Israeli Cup, one of the few Maccabi dropped during those years, he came back to Maccabi for the last time in 1995.
Klein will also be remembered for being the first Israeli coach to take on a foreign national team, that of Germany back in the mid-1980s. Klien led the team to two EuroBaskets, the 1984 Olympic Games and the 1986 MundoBasket. In recent years he continued to coach teams near his home town. His cadet girls team won titles and participated in the high school world championship and in 2006 he collected the last title for his case by leading Ruppin College to the national college championship title. Three months ago, during the final four of the Israeli Basketball Super League, Klein was honored with a gala night to celebrate his career. The entire Israeli basketball family, in addition to several European legends, gathered to say a final goodbye and show glory to the man who changed the face of basketball in Israel, and made it what it is today.
Euroleague Basketball mourns Klein's passing and would like to express its condolences to the Klein family and the Israeli basketball family.