CLEVELAND (WJW) — The Cleveland Cavaliers played an exhibition game Monday night, displaying true symbolism of courage, unity and sportsmanship.
The exhibition match-up was scheduled months ago, but after the conflict between Israel and Hamas broke out, it is more about showing unity, love and respect.
Their opponent, a basketball team from Israel, wanted to show strength, while worrying about their loved ones in a war-torn country back home.
Before Monday night’s tip-off, there was a moment of silence inside Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, reflecting on the innocent lives lost in the Hamas terror attack last week against Israel, as the Israeli flag shone on the Jumbotron. A singer also performed the National Anthem from both countries.
“Our bodies are in the United States, but our minds and our heart is in Israel,” said Yehu Orland, coach for Maccabi Ra’Anana.
Before the game, the Israeli coach spoke to the media about how tough it is to focus on the game, but said he and the players hit the court to give hope to the people back home in Israel.
As his shirt demonstrates, he had a close friend, with a wife and four children, killed in the attack.
“I can cry about the situation about my friend, get really emotional, but the second after that, I’m on the court I’m there 100%. I don’t think about nothing else besides to be a good coach and to lead this team,” said Orland.
“We were here when it happened, in the U.S. and, of course when it happened, we wanted to come back straight away, but they told us it’s better now to stay here, to play the games,” said Israeli player Ori Hai.
Player Alex L Leder has a dual citizenship with Israel and the United States.
“My heart goes out to everyone I know over there and I care about, so yeah, just from the bottom of my heart, I just want to reach out to Israel and everyone I love in Israel, I just send all my love and my prayers,” he said.
There was a heavier than normal police presence outside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse for the game, but Cavs fans still came to cheer on the team, realizing the symbolism of the moment.
“There’s a lot of trouble in the world, so when you have a chance for something like this, to get together and kind of all joins hands, it’s meaningful,” said Cavs fan Eric Marderstein, rooting for both teams.
“It’s bigger than I probably even realize at this point,” said Ron Kelley, Cavs fan.
Only one player returned to Israel after the attack took place, the coach did not elaborate, saying it was for understandable personal reasons.
This Israeli team played the Brooklyn Nets last week and they will play the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday.
They are preparing themselves to see a different Israel than they left, but everyone we spoke to, including the coach, cannot wait to see their families and other loved ones.