Royal and Horton
took him up on the offer. They said their goodbyes to their teammates at the
airport outside Zurich, shaking hands all around, and moved into a Swiss hotel.
For a week the two men rarely left their room, spending days and nights riveted
to the television set. "That first night of Iraqi attacks, when we were in
Greece, was a scary, weird feeling," says Royal. "To have your hometown
being bombed. I felt a stab of fear. I'm from New Orleans, and I never had my
hometown bombed before. I had been in Israel since the summer, and I'd gotten
to know so many people there. I kept wondering, Is anyone I know hurt? I
wandered around in a daze. I couldn't go to sleep.
didn't think it was right for me to go back. I didn't feel I abandoned them. I
was still gonna play. The only things I had back there were a VCR, a Nintendo
game and a stereo. That was my commitment. I thought I could give those up in
exchange for my life. All we did was watch CNN in the hotel. It was very
lonely. I didn't know where to go. We read newspapers and just sat around. Very
boring. I had a lot of time to think, and I needed the time to put my
priorities in order."
ruminated, the players who had gone home began witnessing the star wars being
waged over their city. The day after he returned from Greece, Sims says, a Scud
exploded 350 yards from his house, shaking his windows. "People had put
plastic over their windows to protect against chemical weapons, but the plastic
didn't do any good against the explosions," Sims says. He moved his family
to the house of one of the Maccabi officials, just outside the city of Haifa.
"We sat there watching Scuds hit Haifa and Tel Aviv," Sims says.
"The Patriots were trying to catch them."
In his apartment
on the 24th floor of a building in Tel Aviv, Izik Cohen was talking to his
mother on the telephone when he first heard the siren wailing. "It was an
amazing sight," says Cohen. "I looked out a window and saw a Patriot
missile take off, and I saw it chasing and hitting a Scud. I was stunned. I was
in the air force three years, but I never saw a war in my life. Never. I
started screaming to my mother, 'Oh, my god, a Patriot is going up!' It was
like fireworks in the sky. My windows started shaking. Boom! I was so proud of
the Americans who had come from Europe with their Patriots."
After Cohen heard
a plea on the radio for Israelis to open their homes to the visiting Americans,
to invite them for meals, he drove to a nearby Patriot missile site, befriended
four American servicemen and brought them dinner. "I went to a Dominos
Pizza place in Tel Aviv and got two large pies with everything," Cohen
says. "We became friends. I will never forget seeing that missile go
The war over Tel
Aviv brought a halt to all Israeli Basketball Association games, but Mizrahi
worked to salvage Maccabi's season in the European Champions Cup, suggesting to
FIBA that Israel find a neutral site in Europe to play its scheduled home
games. FIBA agreed. The problem was finding a city willing to play host for
Maccabi. "We thought of playing in Holland, but local authorities said, 'We
can't for security reasons,' " says Mizrahi. "Then we talked about
playing in Paris, but at the last minute the French said there were too many
Arabs in Paris, and there might be trouble. If we had not been determined in
our minds to play—even FIBA told us to quit—we would have had to give up,
forfeit our games."
At last the
orphans of the Champions Cup found a home of sorts when Brussels agreed to let
them play in a small gymnasium, in the middle of a forest, that seats 1,200
people. Madison Square Garden it was not, but Belgium helped save the last leg
of Tel Aviv's season. The team had already played two "home" games on
the courts of their Greek and German opponents.
meanwhile, Royal and Horton rejoined the team on its way through Zurich for the
game in Yugoslavia, but Royal was on his own when Horton chose to return to
Israel after the victory in Split. "I didn't want to get too out of
shape," says Horton. "And I wanted to practice with the team. So I went
Royal got a hotel
room in Bad Homburg, outside Frankfurt. An Israeli gave him a car and a map so
he could get out of stir at the hotel, but there was nowhere he wanted to go.
"Now it was really boring," says Royal. "I didn't know anybody. It
was very lonely. I watched television, drank beer and ate sausages and
sauerkraut. I took out the car every once in a while to get lost and see if I
could find my way back. I had become an orphan, drifting and seeing my team
once a week. I ran up a $500 phone bill every week, calling the States. My
family kept me going. It was a real strange experience."
By the second
week Royal had never felt so isolated, so lost. "There are only so many
times you can drive around Bad Homburg," he says. "Only so much time
you can spend sitting around listening to CNN. Man, it was weird, but it helped
me grow up almost overnight. I wasn't used to being isolated. In grade school,
high school and college, I was the center of the world. As an athlete, you're
always looked upon as that special person. Over in Europe, I was nobody in the
middle of nowhere. After all those years of being on a pedestal, I had only
myself to look to, to answer to. I had time to think, to put things in
perspective.... I overcame my fear."