Karen Gordon’s dream was to play basketball representing the United States in Israel.
That wish didn’t come true, so she did the next best thing this summer. She coached a U.S. basketball team in Israel.
Gordon, who has been involved with the Detroit Maccabi program for 32 years, coached the U.S. 16U girls basketball team at the inaugural International Maccabi Youth Games.
Above: Coach Karen Gordon huddles with her U.S. 16U girls basketball team after losing the gold medal game at the International Maccabi Youth Games in Israel
At the end of the gold medal game — which the U.S. lost to an Israeli team — Gordon gathered her players around her to talk about the experience they’d just had.
“Not that they lost the gold medal game, but the fact that they played basketball in Israel,” she said.
Gordon tried out for the U.S. women’s basketball team that played in the Maccabiah Games in Israel in 1985. She was 18 at the time. She made it to the final round of tryouts but was cut.
“I was hoping to play in the 1989 Maccabiah Games but women’s basketball was cut, for several years as it turned out,” she said. “My chances of playing in Israel were done.
“I told the girls after the gold medal game that they got to play in Israel, and I was honored to coach them. It was quite a touching moment.”
There were eight girls on Gordon’s team. They were from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ontario (Canada did not have a team).
There were no tryouts for the team, and the team had only a two-hour practice after it arrived in Israel before it began the competition, which was held in a school in Haifa.
Three teams from Israel and the U.S. team made up the 16U girls field. Two Israeli teams weren’t very good. The other Israeli team, from a basketball academy in Ramut HaSharon, was a different story.
“They were a well-oiled machine,” Gordon said. “The 12 girls on the team had played together for four years. They deserved to win the gold medal.”
Gordon’s team beat the other Israeli teams 58-24 and 54-17 in pool play. The U.S. team lost 65-52 in pool play and 75-57 in the gold medal game to the Ramut HaSharon team.
“We gave them a fight in both games,” Gordon said.
International rules and their interpretations by referees left Gordon and her players exasperated, she said.
In the gold medal game, U.S. players were slapped with technical fouls for trying to take the basketball away from an opposing player with both hands and yelling “shot” when a shot was taken to alert their teammates.
“When we were taking a free throw, the other team was singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to one of their players who had come off the court, but that wasn’t worth a technical foul,” Gordon said, still laughing about the scene.
“We weren’t mad at the other team,” Gordon said. “After the game, the teams traded jerseys and took pictures.”
Gordon and her players did a lot of touring after the competition, enjoying themselves despite the summer heat in Israel.
“The bottom line is we had a great time and an amazing experience,” she said.
After she returned home to Farmington Hills, Gordon headed to California a few days later to fulfill her role as co-delegation head for Detroit at the JCC Maccabi Games & ArtsFest.
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