Lou Silver, the man with the wrong name

Nov 25, 2013 by Vladimir Stankovic - Euroleague.net Print
Lou Silver, MaccabiHis name is Louis 'Lou' Grant Silver and he will celebrate his birthday this week (November 27, 1953), but after everything he did in basketball, his name should have been 'Gold'. He played and studied in the USA and he was drafted in 1975 by the Kentucky Colonels of the now-defunct American Basketball Association with pick number 73, but that same year he signed for Maccabi Tel Aviv with the idea of playing there for one year and then returning to the United States. He stayed with Maccabi for 10 years. During that period, he won 10 Israeli Leagues championships, eight cups, played four finals of the former Champions Cup and won two of them.

His time in Maccabi coincided with the Golden Age of the club. In the early 1970s, legendary club president Shimon Mizrahi and his collaborators started a project they called the "Great Maccabi." The first key move was the signing and naturalization of Tal Brody. The second was the development of the great talent of Mickey Berkowitz. Both of them have already been talked about in my series about great players of the past. The third move was choosing good Americans. The duo formed by Lou Silver and Jim Boatwright, together with Aulcie Perry, met the third condition without problems.

History in Belgrade

During the seventies of the past century, Maccabi was already a super dominant force in Israel, but the directors, the fans and, in some way, the country itself expected something big in the European Champions Cup. The moment of glory arrived in 1976-77 – Lou Silver's second year with the team. The former European Cup started with the 22 champions of European countries – including Maccabi and Al Gezira of Egypt, though the latter withdrew before the start of the competition – and the defending champ, Mobilgirgi Varese. Italy was the only country with two representatives. Maccabi played in Group E with Olympiacos, Dinamo Bucarest and Synudine Bologna and ended first with five wins and one loss – suffered in Bologna 76-60.

In the final league with the six group champs, Maccabi finished second with a 6-4 record, even though two of those games were won "on paper." Due to political issues, Zbrojovka Brno of the former Czechoslovakia refused to play in Tel Aviv, and the same did CSKA Moscow. FIBA game the wins to Maccabi with a 2-0 score. The return games were played in Belgium. Against CSKA, Maccabi won 91-79 but lost four games: two against Varese (109-79 in Bologna and 70-81 in Tel Aviv) , Real Madrid (106-94) and Racin Maes Pils (75-66). In a three-way tie with CSKA and Madrid, all at 6-4, Maccabi finished osecond. According to the rules, the first two teams would face off in the final on neutral ground.

The site of the title game was the legendary Hala Pionir in Belgrade, the same arena that hosts current Turkish Airlines Euroleague games of Partizan NIS Belgrade and Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade. FIBA had chosen Belgrade earlier, but when the two finalists were known, a problem surfaced. Socialist Yugoslavia didn't have any diplomatic relationship with Israel and the entry of Israeli citizens to the country was complicated. However, the government showed great flexibility and of the 6,000 fans packing the arena, more than half were Maccabi supporters. That was also the first time ever that a jumbo jet landed in Belgrade.

I was at the game and I have good memories of that, especially because of the atmosphere created on the stands by a 'yellow army'. On the court, with many masters of the game on both sides, a special player caught everyone's eye. He was Maccabi's number 12, Lou Silver. We knew him by name, but seeing him in action was a pleasure, mainly because of his special way of shooting. He was a power forward standing at 2.03 meters. He could jump well, but his main asset was the scoring. He had a peculiar way of shooting the ball as the hands, with the ball, were almost completely behind his head. That particular style made it almost impossible for his defenders to block, because it was at an angle impossible to reach. Maccabi dominated from the start thanks to Boatwright and Berkowitz, but also thanks to great defense. Bob Morse, the great Varese scorer, had his first points in the eighth minute and finished with 20 –below from his usual numbers. At the break, Maccabi was ahead 39-30, but Perry had 4 fouls that were provoked by Dino Meneghin. In minute 26, the Italian team managed to pull within 45-47 and in minute 33 it was tied 61-61. The ending was full of drama. With a 78-77 Maccabi lead and 12 seconds left on the clock, Silver missed a shot, but pulled the offensive rebound for a new attack. It looked like Maccabi would win, but British referee David Turner, a FIBA favorite at the time, called for non-existent travelling. Varese had 7 seconds to win, but great Maccabi defense forced a bad pass, a turnover and Maccabi's first continental crown. It was April 7, 1977, a date for the history books in Israeli basketball. You can read more about that game in one of my previous entries here. Boatwright was the hero of the game with 26 points, followed by Berkowitz with 17 and Perry with 16. Silver scored 6, but his shot behind the head remained in everyone's memories.

Silver for Silver

Before playing more European finals with Maccabi, Silver made his debut with the Israeli national team at the 1979 EuroBasket in Italy. He helped the team a lot on its way to the silver medal. It was a total surprise, one of the biggest in the history of EuroBaskets. On the way to the final, Israel defeated the Yugoslavia of the golden generation, a three-peating European champ (1973, 1975, 1977) and defending world champion. Israel prevailed 77-76. In the title game it lost to the USSR 76-98, but history had already been written. The names of Berkowitz, Silver, Motti Aroesti, Eric Menkin, Shuki Schwartz, Shai Sherf, Boaz Yanay, Barry Leibowitz and the rest, coached by Ralph Klein, were national heroes. Silver scored 27 points against Czechoslovakia, 18 against Poland, 14 against France... His average for the tourney was 14.3.

The following four years he would play for Israel with excellent numbers: 19.8 points at the pre-Olympic event in Switzerland, 14.5 at the 1981 EuroBasket, 15.3 in 1983 EuroBasket and 14.1 at the 1984 pre-Olympics.

Silver played his second continental final on March 27, 1980 in Berlin against Real Madrid, who won 89-85, maybe because Silver had one of the few bad days in his career; he did not score a single point that night. As European runner-up, Maccabi took part in the Intercontinental Cup in Sarajevo in 1980 and won the trophy after defeating Franca of Brazil 88-74 with Earl Williams as its best scorer with 28 points.

The following year in Strasbourg, Maccabi won its second title by downing Synudine Bologna 80-79. Bertkowitz was the best scorer with 21 points, followed by Williams with 20. Silver contributed 6. The last European final for Silver was on March 25, 1982 in Cologne, where Squib Cantu was better than Maccabi, 86-80. Silver and Berkowitz scored 16 points each, but on the other side were Charles Kupec (23), Bruce Flowers (21), Pierluigi Marzorati (18) and Antonello Riva (16).

Mike Karnon, the excellent former press chief at Maccabi describes Silver as “an all-around player, very clever with great understanding of the game. He was known for his unique double-handed, over the head jump shot."

Karnon also offers some gems for the data lovers direct from his documentation:
"In his ten seasons in Tel Aviv he scored 3,035 points in 196 Israeli League games (15.4 ppg.) and 1,999 points in 138 European games (14.4 ppg.) Silver also played 66 games for the national team, in which he scored 961 points (14.5 ppg.)."

About Silver's personality, Karnon adds: "Silver, a soft spoken man, always preferred to remain behind the scene and away from the media. On the other hand he was a tough customer when it came to negotiating his contract. During his days with Maccabi he studied at Tel Aviv University School of Law, graduating with an LL.B and later got an LL.M from New York University School of Law."

Great homage

After having retired, in July of 1987, he received a great homage. Maccabi played against a European team with Drazen Petrovic, Nikos Gallis, Richard Dacoury, Panagiotis Giannakis, Stanislav Kropilak and Antello Riva among others. Europe won, 108-87 but the only important thing that night was the farewell of a great player loved by the fans.

At the start of the current season, before the game between Maccabi and Crvena Zvezda, in a small, but emotional ceremony in the middle of the court, Silver received standing ovations once more as a new member of the Maccabi Hall of Fame. With him, Boatwright, his great teammate, also received posthumous honors.

After retiring as a player, Lou Silver turned his head to business, making good use of his education as a banking and finance expert. Nowadays he is a businessman and attorney and serves as principal in RP Capital Group as well as director in several other companies and moves between London and New York.