Trail of Ashes

(excerpted from the original article)Â

In the summer of 1995, the Israeli version of the talk show This Is Your Life was taping its annual Rosh Hashana special at a studio in Neveh Ilan, a town just outside of Jerusalem. The guest of honor was Shmulik “Shamluk” Machrowski, the squat, homely general manager of the basketball dynasty Maccabi Tel Aviv with some of Maccabi’s—and Israel’s—greatest heroes on hand for his celebration. Then, the show’s host, Amos Ettinger, introduced a very special guest.

Via satellite feed, a face beamed onto a projection screen and Ettinger presented Aulcie Perry, the one-time Maccabi superstar who was unable to join the show in the studio. Shamluk, who had been especially close to Perry, was overcome with emotion during the brief conversation. And then, Shamluk recalls, “He came out, the son of a bitch. I almost collapsed.” Perry strode onto the stage, his sudden presence sending a ripple through the studio. “You know how many times I’ve thought of you in the last 10 years?” Perry gushed to Machrowski.

All together, the legendary athletes the likes of Lou Silver, Tal Brody and Miki Berkowitz, rose and embraced their old friend. Arm-in-arm, they stood up on the stage and actually began to sing, belting out a shaky chorus or two of “We Are The Champions.” “It was a big hall with hundreds of people,” Shamluk recalls, “and everyone was standing and clapping. ‘Aulcie! Aulcie! Aulcie!'” Perry hadn’t set foot in the country in 10 years, spending the better part of that time in a North Carolina state penitentiary.

Maccabi Tel Aviv, the perennial national champions, is a team that inspires intense passion. Imagine the Yankees, the Lakers and the Cowboys all rolled into one. The story of the team is a fi nely-constructed tale of domination, built upon the bedrock of the magical ’77 season—Aulcie Perry’s first year in Israel. Maccabi had been recruiting American players since the early ’60s, but it wasn’t until the arrival of Aulcie Perry, a lean, 6’10” player from Newark, New Jersey who played college basketball for historically black Bethune-Cookman College in Dayton, Florida, that Maccabi transformed into an elite European team.

“Aulcie was the missing link,” recalls Brody. “All our size was in good guards and good forwards and we were missing a center, and that’s when Aulcie Perry came into the picture. It took us to that next level.”

There was no reason to think Perry would make such an impact. In the summer of ’76, when Shamluk spotted him in a summer league held at Madison Square Garden, Perry’s professional career consisted of a short stint with the ABA’s Virginia Squires and an unsuccessful go-around with the New York Knicks. Perry was signed to a standard $10,000 a year contract and flown to Israel. His plan was to spend a year fine-tuning his game and then attempt to catch on with an American squad.

The team was already loaded with talent. Alongside Silver, Berkowitz and the captain Brody, were the sharpshooter Jim Boatwright and the crafty point guard Motti Aroesti. But Perry, as much as anyone, was responsible for the team’s rise to eminence. He was an exceptionally smart and versatile player, with impressive shooting range, remarkable agility for his height and a knack for making the right pass—Jim Boatwright described him as, “the prototype for a Kevin Garnett.” But it was his uncanny skill for sparking the fast break with a blocked shot, and his equally impressive talent for converting in transition, that formed the basis for Maccabi’s run-and-gun identity.

Boatwright remembers the team shaping itself around Perry’s style of play. “We used to go over to Amsterdam and play in a pre-season tournament,” he says. “We used to be at the bottom of it, in the pool system. Aulcie joined us, and lo and behold, we won the whole thing.” Very quickly, Maccabi went from being a good team to being a great one.

It was a surging but underestimated Maccabi team that entered Euroleague play in 1977. After a successful early round of pool play in which they knocked off the Czech team Zabriobraska Berno and the Italian team Sinudine Bologna, Maccabi found itself within striking distance of a finals appearance. Standing in their way was the dominant CSKA Moscow, stocked with many of the same players who had defeated the U.S. in the controversial ’72 Olympics. Maccabi would need to win both games of a home-and-home series against CSKA to advance to the finals.

The USSR had formally broken off diplomatic relations with Israel following the Six-Day War, so CSKA forfeited the initial game by refusing to play in Tel Aviv. CSKA also declined to host the Israeli squad in Moscow, and so a neutral site for the game had to be found. On the night of February 18, 1977, all eyes in Israel ended up focused on the small Belgian town of Virton, where 650 spectators packed into a 500-capacity arena. American-born bench player Bob Griffin explains: “This was a time when Jews weren’t allowed out of the Soviet Union, Natan Sharansky was in the gulag. . . .We knew that this wasn’t just a basketball game.”

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3 Responses

  1. maewhite

    Aulcie is a wonderful fine human being who took Maccabi to new heights.
    What is Maccabi doing for him now, ask yourselves.

  2. autoinsurance

    maccabi is the best basketball team in the world outside of the NBA.. thanks for sharing :)


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