Basketball Doc ‘On the Map’ Finds Upstart Israel Facing the USSR


Three countries ran roughshod over the rest of the Continent for the first few decades the European Cup basketball championship existed, and Israel wasn’t one of them. So while it won’t come as much surprise to learn that On the Map, a documentary about Maccabi Tel Aviv’s improbable success in the 1977 edition of the tourney, is a feel-good Cinderella story, the real-life details are at least apropos of this kind of athletic fairy tale.

Director Dani Menkin’s starting five comprises such expert interviewees as Bill Walton, David Stern, and several members of the actual team along with archival footage accompanied by the sound of an old-fashioned projector; the film mounts a competent offense as it shows how the Israeli squad overcame superior foes on the court and prejudice off of it — simply getting the Soviet Union to agree to play them was a victory in and of itself.

Made up largely of NBA castoffs, Maccabi Tel Aviv was, if not quite a motley crew, then certainly unlikely to do what they did: dethrone, among others, the Soviet Union just five years after the Russkies’ disputed (read: illegitimate) victory in the same Olympics that saw the murder of eleven Israelis.

Perhaps the purest expression of what Maccabi Tel Aviv meant to those who were part of it comes from Aulcie Perry, who tells of his conversion to Judaism during his time on the team — a hard-won process that required him to get circumcised (again). What’s Hebrew for “no pain, no gain”?

On the Map
Directed by Dani Menkin
Hey Jude Productions
Opens December 9, Cinema Village