Where They Are Today - Purvis Short
“Purvis Short was the best player I ever coached” that’s what Ralph Klein, Israel’s legendary coach answers when he is asked to point out one name from the long list of players he worked with during all those years. For Klein, who coached Tal Brody, Miki Berkovic and Jim Boetwright in Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Detlef Schrempf in Germany’s National Team there is no doubt. Short, who was Klein’s player at Hapoel Tel Aviv in the 1991-92 season, is the best player he ever worked with. It seems short himself has the same positive impression from he’s cooperation with Klein: “Ralph is one of the greatest coaches I ever had during my career, and I had a lot of them. I always considered him a NBA coach”.
Klein might have been a NBA coach, but Short was certainly a player in the best league in the world – one of the best during the eighties. Since he was picked fifth in the first round of 1978 draft by the Golden State Warriors (one pick before the legendary Larry Bird), the Forward had appeared in 860 games, score 14,794 points, and had 3,767 rebound, 2,152 assists and 891 steals. All of it in 12 years of bright career with the Warriors (where he still hold much of the team’s records like most games, points and steals for a career there), Houston Rockets and New Jersey Nets. In the 1984-85 season he finished forth in scoring with 28 points per game. In 1991 Short brought this incredible record to ‘Osishkin’ in that memorable season for the Reds.
At the end of that season, Short decided to retire from the game at the age of 35. Since then he is working for the national basketball players association, and serve today as the director of the players programs department. “We are giving all kinds of services to the players and develop educational programs for them” Short (48), who now lives in Houston, explains. “We run programs that help the in career planning, getting and education and even drugs preventing - Very important things. I have a staff of five retired players to help me that includes Elliott Perry, Roy Hinson, Tim McKormick, George Johnson and Frank Brickowski (who played for Maccabi in the early 80’s)”.
It was pretty surprising that Short decided to end his remarkable career in Israel. Here, on the banks of the Yarkon river, he showed up one day, with David Thirdkill on his side, as an improvised additions to the team which started the year very bad. “I wanted to experience living and playing somewhere outside of the US, and the opportunity came when Hapoel offered me to join them. I was a little bit afraid of the security situation, but I knew bad stuff happens all over the world. I decided to come to Israel with my family, and I didn’t regret it. It was a great experience”.
Short and Thirdkill replaced Wayne Campbell and Goran Grbovic. All of a sudden, under the supervision of coach Klein and with the help of Amos Frishman, Tomer Steinhaur, Shimon Amsalem and the other local players, they got Hapoel from the bottom of the league to being a serious threat on Maccabi’s dominance, “we really believed we can win the championship. We weren’t afraid of the”, says Short.
Almost every foreign player who lands in Israel claims he came to win the championship, a statement that seems absurd for the common israeli basketball fan, but when Short said it, back then, as well as today, it seems serious. Even for those skeptic journalists who said that at his old age he is a finished player. “I never took much notice to what they said. I knew what I can do and if I wasn’t capable of doing it, I wouldn’t come to Hapoel. During my career I heard a lot of stuff. There is always someone who will criticize you. For my part, I just let my basketball do the talking”.
“We had a perfect team and it’s not something that is easy to achieve” Short recalls, “We had a group of great players in every position and we were all friends. There was a good atmosphere and we all were committed to winning and really believed we can do it. My main contribution was my leadership and experience. I loved to share all the knowledge I got over the years with the young players, and that paid back on the court. I did everything I needed to do to win and they learned how to help me, so we can do it together".
Short and co. truly did it, almost all the way, but in the fourth and last game of the final playoffs series against Maccabi of Mike Mitchell, LaVon Mercer and Jose Vargas – a series which drove the country crazy – the Reds lost. A game which would be forever remembered because of the punch Mercer threw to Steinhaur’s face. Everybody in Yad Eliyahoo saw it, except the referees. “Maccabi knew we can beat them, as we did some time during that season. They were afraid of us and we were confident – from the coach to the last player on the bench.
- So why did you lost at the end?
“Well that’s the million dollar question. It’s still bothers me. It was sad for me to disappoint the fans, after we managed to persuade them that we can beat Maccabi. In any case, I have to say those days of the final series were one of the most enjoyable times of my life. I never experienced that kind of emotion and desire like the one we had in our home games at Osishkin. It was crazy and I loved it. It was like coming back to college days. It’s a shame we didn’t win the championships, but this things happen”.
- In Israel this things happen year after year. Maccabi win the championship over and over again. Do you have any suggestions, how to make the Israeli league more competitive?
“the first thing that needs to be done is to expose the Israeli league overseas. Everybody know about Maccabi, but are not aware that there are other good team in the country. When that will happen, other good foreign players would come. Personally, I always tells young players about the great experience I had, but Israeli basketball is not known enough in the world. As for the foreign players-local players ratio, it’s hard for me the express my opinion. I assume the local players association is familiar with the situation more than I do. In the NBA we don’t have these problems. The best players are the ones that play. There is no discrimination between one player and the other based on his ethnic background”.
The modest Short, that played in great arenas in front of 20,000 fans in the NBA, didn’t felt uneasy with Osishkin’s small size or the heat and moisture in it. “it doesn’t matter where you play basketball, in the Palace in Detroit or small Osishkin in Tel Aviv, as long as you play your best and in Israel they used to play good basketball. I remember Jonathan Dalzell, Tomer (Steinhaur) and the point-guard Amos (Frishman) as good players. I had success in the league, not because it was weak. Simply, I knew how to get the best of my advantages and Ralph helped me a lot with that.
“Actually, I think Ralph could be an NBA coach. He was for sure one of the best coaches that I ever worked with. I have to give him the credit for the way I got involved with the team and the way I could still keep on and play at the highest level, baring my age”, admits Short, and it shows he still has a lot of appreciation of his former coach. “Ralph was a coach that knows his players and relate to them and he knows a lot about the game. I still talks highly of him here”.
Short is saddened when he hear the news that Klein is battling cancer and says: “I want to tell Ralph that he is in the thoughts and prayers of me and my family. I want to thank him for the his contribution to my life and for the nice time I had beside him. I want to strengthen him and hope he’ll beat the disease and I’m going to make sure of that, when I’ll come for a visit”.
- So when do you intend to return to Israel?
“It is something I truly consider. Israel is a great country and I tell it to everybody. The people accepted me warmly, and I’ll always remember it as a good experience. I can’t think about one best thing about Israel. It was one of the meaningful and joyful times of my life”.