In what will no doubt be remembered as one of the lowest moments in recent Israeli basketball history, Maccabi Tel Aviv center Sofoklis Schortsanitis pulled a Ron Artest, charging the stands after a hard-fought 83-80 victory over intercity rival Hapoel Tel Aviv’s court on Monday night.
According to Maccabi Tel Aviv, Schortsanitis ran toward the fans as the team was leaving the court because a Hapoel Tel Aviv supporter had threatened to rape the star player’s daughter.
Schortsanitis, who in the past has been referred to as “Baby Shaq,” has played on and off for Israel’s most successful basketball team since 2010. He is listed at 2.06 meters (6 ft 9 in) and 156.5 kilograms (345 lb), and was selected in the 2nd round (34th overall) of the 2003 NBA Draft, although he never played a game in the NBA. His physique is what often draws parallels to former NBA star and future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal. So far this season he has averaged 8.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.
In an official statement issued by the club, Maccabi Tel Aviv stated that it “rejects and condemns any kind of violence — both physical and verbal, which is often no less harmful — and clarifies that it has no place on the court. We expect athletes, even in the most severe cases, to find the strength of mind to know to hold back. Maccabi will conduct a comprehensive investigation of the incident, and the details of the event, and our decisions, will be made known in the near future.”
The club also rebutted a letter from Hapoel Tel Aviv’s legal counsel, which argued that the player “trampled security personnel, fans, and small children”; it said Schortsanitis “did not swing at or hit anyone.”
In response to Maccabi Tel Aviv’s statements, Hapoel Tel Aviv retorted: “This is a load of lies. But what can you expect from a club whose captain calls players ‘Nazis’ and wish them brain cancer.”
In 2012, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s team captain Guy Pnini cursed Swedish-Israeli Hapoel Tel Aviv player Jonathan Skjöldebrand, referring to him as a “German Nazi,” a “son of a bitch” and “trash.” Pnini was summarily stripped of his captaincy, suspended from a number of games, severely fined, and ordered to do 20 hours of community service, which he carried out at an institution that aids Holocaust survivors.
The legal counsel of the Israel Basketball Association (IBA) will reach a decision Tuesday on the indictment filed against the Greek national, based on game footage and other photographic evidence.
While Hapoel Tel Aviv is demanding Schortsanitis’s expulsion through the end of the season, it seems more likely that the IBA will recommend a five-game suspension.