Memphians Josh Kahane and Ed Wiener went into the games hoping for a medal. They did not disappoint! Memphis is proud of their superstars and Team USA.
Ed Wiener won a gold medal as part of Team USA’s basketball squad in the 1953 Maccabiah Games. His competitive nature said that it was past time for another one.
This summer, with the 10-man USA team he assembled, they headed for the Games in Israel with hopes in bringing home the Gold. They were ecstatic when they delivered the 2017 Maccabiah basketball bronze in the over-35 basketball competition.
While he was excited with his team going into the Israeli competition, injuries and the tougher-style European play had a major impact. “Their players play so brutal; we’re used to finesse play in the United States,” said Wiener.
But, the overall memories they take away won’t end on the basketball court. Basketball was their top priority for sure – Wiener’s convinced they would’ve done better; perhaps gold – if he had known that the competition was one part basketball to one part wrestling.
Even during their hectic schedule, the men enjoyed some leisure time.
Both Wiener and Josh Kahane, who played a key role in the two-week-old play (more on that later), had the opportunity to enjoy time with relatives and close friends. The two Memphians traveled with immediate family and also visited other relatives in Israel. Of course, there was a good showing of fellow Memphians there for the competition as well.
Let’s start with Wiener, the man at the top. It’s been well chronicled here in Jewish Scene Magazine about Wiener’s Hall-of-Fame Tennessee Volunteer basketball career, his eight games played against the Harlem Globetrotters, and even his brief stay in the NBA before entering the field of dentistry. But coaching – this was a first for the man who just celebrated a very special birthday.
Wiener’s been available for individual coaching work over the years, maybe for a Memphis Margolin Hebrew Academy MACs player during their pre-season local tournament, or years ago when he reached out to help former University of Tennessee (UT) star Ernie Grunfeld with his jump shot. But being responsible for an entire team – now that was a first.
And it took a call from Kahane to convince him. Kahane, a former MACS player, former Pan American player and Maccabi USA Masters Men’s 35+Basketball co-chairman, asked Wiener last summer if he’d considered the opportunity to pilot the team. At first Wiener was hesitant.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to do it, I didn’t know if I could do it,” Wiener said. “It’s a big responsibility.”
He wasn’t the only reluctant party. When Kahane approached Maccabi USA officials about wanting Wiener to lead them, they thought he was crazy. After all, they could have gone with a well-known name such as Josh Pastner, Larry Brown, Seth Greenburg or a spate of other Jewish coaches. But Kahane convinced his teammates that it was a right call, and the Maccabi officials came around.
After a few minutes, he got the response he was hoping for from the UT great. Teaching these players would be at a minimum, Kahane assured him, but instilling chemistry and teamwork in players unfamiliar with others’ play might be a bit more difficult.
The players – hailing from L.A. to New Jersey, Houston to Illinois and Virginia – have all played either Division I or II basketball during their college days and are still active in summer and JCC leagues. They all love the game and maintain those competitive edges on the court and at work.
Those edges led Team USA to a 3-2 record, winning against teams from Australia, Chile and Argentina and losing to Israel and Russia but it’s the game against the Russians that might hurt the most. “They were the roughest team I’ve ever seen on a basketball court,” Wiener said. “We had them by seven with a little over one minute to go. They put a press on us; when they put a press on a team they don’t go for the ball, they go for the man and strip him of the ball.”
Even with those problems Team USA had a chance to win from the foul line with two seconds to go.
After that disappointing loss and four starters sidelined with injuries. it was Kahane’s moment to shine. He scored 10 against Argentina, five against Chile and chipped in four against Argentina for the bronze medal. USA prevailed there, 79-68.
“Josh is a good shooter; he’s got a great shot,” said Wiener. “He pretty much saved the day for us.”
For Wiener another medal promises retirement in his second or maybe third career. Either that or take former Griz Zach Randolph with him to patrol that tough inside play.
Now that he’s gotten that Bronze medal, what’s in Wiener’s future? “Now, I can retire,” he said. But, as we all know it’s hard to keep a good man down.