When Tal Brody was an All-American and the University of Illinois, he went on to be the 12th pick of the NBA draft. But in 1965, he was looking at $12,500 per year, rather than the guaranteed millions of today. So after graduate school, he moved to Israel and became a sporting legend.
When he comes to Bet Shalom, Brody is talking about far more than his basketball playing days.
“Basically I’m talking about my life – my 52 years in Israel – A-to-Z,” he said. He’s passionate about speaking to student groups, and all proceeds from the event will go towards scholarships for students who want to travel to Israel. “I like speaking on the college campuses because there’s lots of misinformation on the campuses. Because I’m not a politician and I’m received as a sportsman, I have great conversations.”
Brody made his name in 1977 when he led the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team to a European Cup title; on the way to that title, they defeated the CSKA Moscow team largely made up of the Soviet Union players that beat the U.S. in the 1972 Olympics.
“It’s amazing that in Israel for sure, all over, this moment in history is never forgotten,” Brody said. The exploits of that team were highlighted in the documentary On The Map, which has been screened in the Twin Cities the past two years and won’t be when Brody is here. The film’s name comes from what he said to Israeli broadcasters immediately after the win over CSKA: “We are on the map, we stay on the map. Not only in sport but in everything.” He has, however, traveled all over the world for screenings of the movie.
“It’s interesting for people because it’s basketball based, but it’s about Israel and the love of sport,” he said. “Maccabi Tel Aviv playing in [the European Cup] in Milano will draw 10,000 Israeli’s to cheer on the team. It’s a big part of the culture. The movie is very attractive for people because it’s something they never felt or seen. It’s an amazing supplement to see the spirit and how sport gave them pride.”
Brody said that, at the time, the win was important because the country was largely depressed from the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israel was credited with two wins against CSKA – one by forfeit because the Soviets refused to play in Israel, and the other on the court in a neutral site in Belgium. The Soviet Union didn’t want to play at all because they feared they would lose face with the Arab nations that the USSR was military advisers for.
Brody is now a Goodwill Ambassador for Israel, and still sits on the board of Maccabi Tel Aviv. But as much as he likes to talk about the MTA teams that won the European Cup both in 1977 and four times since 2001, he talks up all other sports where Israelis are competing at the highest level.
“Soccer is the most popular in Israel, but when it comes to achievement, Israel has brought more honors in sports other than soccer. Judo, windsurfing, and basketball, along with tennis, is where we’re achieving, he said. “Linoy Ashram won medals at the last two World Championships in rhythmic gymnastics.
“In the Judo championships in Dubai, our athletes can participate with our flag, and we will hopefully hear Hatikvah. It’s a changing world. It’s amazing what sport has done for Israel itself. It’s been a tremendous relationship I’ve seen since the beginning.”
Each winter for the NBA All-Star Game, Brody makes it back to the States where he sees many of his friends who are in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Every year, they always ask if I would make the same decision (to play in Israel) for today’s money,” he said. “And I say every year: If I didn’t know what I’d be experiencing for 52 years in Israel, I would say sure. But if you ask me to give up 52 beautiful years, I say I’d still go to Israel. That’s how I feel and I have no regrets.”
Tickets for the event are $12 online and can be purchased here, or $12 at the door.