Monday, November 14, 2005

Where They Are Today - Mike Mitchell

Last summer, a little bit after the closing of the Maccabia games in Israel, the US Maccabia games started far away in the city of San Antonio. There were a lot of VIP’s visiting the opening ceremony – some of the city celebs, head of the Maccabi organization in the US and Mike Mitchell, who was serving as the games commissioner and whom is remembered as one of the best players in Maccabi Tel Aviv’s history. The Maccabia games are not the only community activity Mitchell (49) is taking part in. actually, since retiring from basketball only three years ago, the former star devoted himself to a lot of charity programs for the community.

“These days I mostly work with underprivileged youth” says Mitchell from his home in San Antonio, “I’m trying to give something back to the community and contribute. When you see those poor children doing something with their life, you feel like you are getting a lot in return”. In that way, Mitchell keeps his polite elegance behavior from the basketball court – behavior which he was not once criticized over his very long career”.

I retired at the age of 46, after seven years in Reggio Emilia in Italy and I think I could play a lot more, maybe two years or even twenty”, claims Mitchell and explains why did he decided to end his professional career, 22 years after it started as a rookie in the Cleveland Cavaliers. “At some point you watch your children grow up and you feel you need to get closer to them before they’ll leave the house. Sometime in life you need to make a change and invest more in your family. My decision was not based on my age or because of my ability”.

Mitchell, Who had and impressive career of more than ten NBA seasons (with the Cavs and San Antonio Spurs) speculate his career got so long because he left for European basketball, which considered less intensive. “I don’t think I was able to keep up so long in the NBA, and probably would retire at 35, but back then the gaps between European and American basketball was much bigger than today. I always preferred shooting the basketball, and I was never much of a physical player, so it was much easier for me overseas. I went to Italy when I was 32 and after three successful seasons moved to Israel to play for Maccabi”.
  • How did your relationships with the Yellows started?

“At first, Maccabi offered me to join them, I wasn’t so interested. My wife was worried because of the security situation and I promised her that there is no chance I’ll play in the Middle East, but Maccabi didn’t gave up, and I was getting daily phone calls from Moni Fanan (Maccabi’s manager). He told me: ‘Come to Israel, Mike. Just come to visit’. He called so many times, that even my wife got persuaded and said: ‘OK, lets go and visit Israel’. When we got there all our fears were gone”.

Like most of the foreign players that landed here, Mitchell understood the Israeli reality is much different than the one is shown on the global media. “After all the horrors we so on CNN, we found an awesome country with great weather”, he recalls. “As a Christian, it was important for me to visit there. It’s totally different from the way you imagine it at home. This is a very important lesson I’ve learned during that year, that things are always not as they seem. Not only in Israel, but in every other place in the world. Me and my family had a lot of fun in Israel, and enjoyed the people and the Humus, I used to eat there. You can’t find it in San Antonio”.

One thing that Mitchell didn’t like in Israel was the local press, that buried him on the first occasion he was wearing the yellow uniform in his preseason game. “I remember that after I got to Israel, everybody wanted to see me play and the first opportunity was this preseason game, where I wasn’t very good. The day after all the headlines in the newspapers were saying I am finished, and that Maccabi did a mistake by signing me. I on my part said that I’m not a preseason, but a real time player. And indeed, in the first regular season game, I was pretty good and everybody praised me. That’s the way it works, and I would be surprised to see it works any differently these days”.

Mitchell’s European career lasted not less than 14 years – 13 of them in Italy, but even untill now he sees this one season (1991-92) with Maccabi as the top of his career outside the NBA. “Maccabi was definitely the best European team I ever played for and our campaign in the Champions cup was my best achievement outside the US. I think I played well, but unfortunately things got messed up in the quarterfinals against Estudiantes Madrid”.

Mitchell is still remembered as the one who tied the series, when he won the second game in Yad Aliyahoo when he took the ball – coast to coast – for an easy lay-up in the closing moments. That forced a third deciding game which Maccabi lost in a very sloppy end. “I remember those last seconds of the game, the point-guard passed the ball to Doron Jamchi, that slipped on the court and we lost any chance to go to the semifinals. It was disappointing but I still thought we had a good season”.

Mitchell might have been the best player in Israel at the time which is regarded as a golden era for local basketball, when proved NBA veterans like Purvis Short and Eugene Banks played here. Mitchell was impressed with them as well as some of the local talents. “Jamchi was a great shooter and Guy Goodes was a good point guard, but the best one was Gene Banks whom I played with in San Antonio and against when he was playing for Rishon Le’zion in Israel. I also enjoyed playing against Purvis Short from Hapoel, that made us a lot of troubles. Fortunately, we managed to win the championships eventually, with the support of our great fans, who stood behind me all the way”.

Inspite of winning the championships, after a thrilling final series against Hapoel, the management of Maccabi decided to keep Jose Vargas and cut the disappointed Mitchell. “I wanted to stay with Maccabi, even for less money, but they didn’t want me”, he says. “they thought I was too old and go with different directions. There were some other team in Israel who offered me to join them (Hapoel was known to be interested), but I prefered to go back to Italy and went to Reggio Emilia which I enjoyed very much. Maccabi lost the championships in the following year. With me it wouldn’t have happen”.


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