The early period
The first mention of the Hapoel Jerusalem Association is in the fourth Hapoel convention in 1935. It was the first convention in which basketball games were held, and out of the four teams that participated in the competition (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Yehuda, and Samaria), Jerusalem finished in first place after a victory in the final over Yehuda with a score of 4:8. However, the real story of the club begins in 1943 in an arena on Histadrut Street with various tournaments and friendly matches.
The group met once or twice a week, sometimes under the guidance of Zeev Levandel and sometimes without a coach. The star of Hapoel Jerusalem (in basketball and soccer) before the establishment of the state was Yehoshua Weissman, who appeared on the first team of Israel in basketball at the democratic festival in Prague in 1947. He fell that year in the war of liberation on the way to the crown.
During the War of Liberation, the activity of the association was stopped, but it was resumed immediately after the end of the war, with the team moving to practice in the Imka arena. The brothers Mark and Sami Mamran, who came to Israel as part of the immigration of basketball players from Egypt, joined the association. In the early 1950s, Ari Zamri, later a sports journalist, began coaching the team. In the middle of the decade, the team's conditions were upgraded, and they moved to play and practice in the arena on Strauss Street, which at the time was the only indoor arena in Israel.
The decade of the sixties brightened the face of Jerusalem, mainly thanks to the team's success in the home arena. As mentioned, the arena in Strauss was the only indoor arena in Israel, and the team had a hard time in the away games on the open courts. On the other hand, in the home games, the story was completely different: five hundred spectators would squeeze into the small hall every Friday night and push the team to great victories over the lions of the league at the time: Hapoel and Maccabi Tel Aviv, Givat Brenner, and Hapoel Haifa.
David Kaminsky was the undisputed leader of the team between 1958 and 1963 and was also considered the team's greatest player since its inception. In the 1960–61 season, Kaminski led Hapoel Jerusalem to fourth place in the league with a record of 10–12, but the achievement was not repeated in the following season, and the team finished in eighth place. The 1962–63 season marked the end of Kaminsky's career at Hapoel Jerusalem and the mentorship of a new star, Israel Berlinsky (Amir), who soon succeeded in taking Kaminsky's place. At the beginning of the season, two American players joined the team—Paris and Soknik—students who had completed a year of study at the Hebrew University, and they were actually the first "foreign" reinforcement players for Hapoel Jerusalem.
The years 1981–1986 were difficult years for the team, which was stuck in the National League for six years, despite the fact that under the guidance of Yehoshua Rosin, the team finished the first three seasons in a row, but the freezing of promotions and relegations between the leagues left Hapoel out of its natural place in the top league. The only bright spot in these years was the construction of the arena in Malha, which became the team's home ground instead of the old arena on Strauss Street. The second half of the decade, on the other hand, was characterized by the team gaining a foothold in the National League and becoming an important factor in Israeli basketball.
Before the 1988–89 season, some significant changes were made to the team. For the first time in the history of Hapoel, a foreign coach was signed: the Yugoslav Farouk Kolanovic. The team also brought back one of the greatest players in its history and the history of the Israeli league as a whole, Doron Shefa (after playing several seasons for Hapoel Afula and Maccabi Haifa). In addition, Mike Carter and two other Americans, Gerry Graham and David Blackwell, arrived in the capital. For the first time in many years, the team did not have to fight against relegation.
The decade of the nineties, which was the club's golden age, got off to a bad start, but the 1990/91 season quickly changed after Kolanovic was replaced by the young Yoram Harush. From that moment on, there was a drastic change in the team, and under the leadership of Shefa, Hazan, Blackwell, Amir (Mookie) Mutapcic, David Blatt, Greg Collins, and Finny Levy, the team finished the season in fourth place and found itself playing in the top playoffs for the first time in history.
Also in the next season, Harush was called to the flag in the middle of the season, and the one who led the team in those days was a young point guard named Adi Gordon. In the summer of 1992, coach Zvika Sherf signed with the team. Norris Coleman joined the trio of Gordon, Shefa, and Hazan, but the instability of the team remained as it was. Harush remained as the coach in the 1993/94 season, and the legendary Mickey Berkovich joined the team, but Shefa and Hazan left (to Holon and Galil, respectively) due to financial problems. By the summer of 1994, most of the senior players had left. Gordon, who became a crowd favorite in his three seasons at Hapoel, joined Shefa in Holon, Coleman signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Berkovic moved to Hapoel Tel Aviv.
During the summer of 1995, there was a development that changed the face of Hapoel. Businessman Nahum Manbar transferred his support from Hapoel Holon to Hapoel Jerusalem. Gordon, Shefa, and Coleman returned to the team and formed a very strong lineup together with Billy Thompson and Pappy Turgeman. Manbar also brought coach Pini Gershon with him. The season opened with an impressive 0-6 record, with Hapoel running over everyone in front of it, including Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Hapoel finished in second place in the regular league and reached the final of the cup, but not before Adi Gordon raised it with a basket victory over Herzliya in the final, in which Hapoel drew Maccabi to a close game that, thirty seconds to the end, was tied at 65:65. Hapoel went on a last attack; Adi Gordon threw Gamchi in one direction, Leaf in the other, and finally gave a floater shot over Tom Chambers. The ball only saw a net; Hapoel won 65:67 and won the first cup in its history. A year later, the feat was repeated with a second consecutive cup win.
In the first season of the early 2000s, Hapoel reached the playoff finals but succumbed to Maccabi Tel Aviv and finished in second place. In the following season, Hapoel experienced success in Europe, reaching the semi-finals of the Sporta Cup (eliminated by Siena), but this was only an introduction to the 2003-04 season. In that season, coach Sharon Drucker was on the line, and together with a group of fighters that included Erez Katz, Doron Shaffer, Will Solomon, Tonji Awojobi, Kelly McCarthy, who joined during the season, and more, Hapoel reached its peak achievement in Europe, winning the Europe Cup.
The Reds played great in the European group, finishing in second place in the group stage and securing a place in the round of 16. In the semi-finals, the Reds met Zheleznik Belgrade. In the semi-finals, Hapoel surrendered 70:69 in the first game and knew that she had to win to make history and advance to the title game. Will Solomon led the way in that game, scoring 34 points. Awjobi added 21 of his own, and at the end, Hapoel celebrated with a huge 76:79 en route to the final in Charlois.
The opponent in the final was Real Madrid, which is powerful and full of titles. Hapoel reached the final as an underdog but received an incredible addition in the form of thousands of Jerusalem fans who filled Charleroi. The Red Orchestra was led by Kelly McCarthy (21 points), joined by Will Solomon and Doron Shafer (15 points), and no one wanted to let the trophy slip from their hands. Hapoel managed to keep the advantage in the last quarter as well and won a historic trophy, the Europe Cup. Two years later, Hapoel was close to repeating the achievement but was eliminated in the semi-finals by Dynamo Moscow.
In the 2007/08 season, Hapoel reached the cup final, where they met Maccabi Tel Aviv and presented one of the biggest coups in the cup final ever. The Reds fell behind by 22 points during the third quarter, but then the comeback began. Jamie Arnold led Hapoel. With 29 points, together with Timmy Bowers and Dror Hajjaj, they led a tremendous turnaround, at the end of which Hapoel won 89:93 and won the trophy for the second time in a row. Maccabi Tel Aviv decided to get off the floor and not participate in the hoisting ceremony.
The new era
In the 2013–14 season, the club came under the control of a group of investors headed by Ori Alon and Eyal Chomsky. This season heralded the change that was to come to the club, which from that moment on got stronger with key players and competed almost every year for all the titles. In the following season, the 2014/15 season, historic moments have already arrived. As of this season, Hapoel left the mythical Malcha Arena and moved to the Pais Arena, which has 11,600 seats.
The fan base grew dramatically, and the red crowd came to the games in droves. This season, the club presented a great squad, which included Yotam Halperin and Lior Eliyahu, who announced a change in trend in the local league. Other notable players on the roster were Donte Smith, Bracey Wright, Bar Timor, Yaniv Green, Tony Gaffney, and Darwin Kitchen.
Hapoel managed to reach the playoff finals that season and met Hapoel Eilat for a pair of games. Hapoel won the first game 65:80 in Eilat and reached a decisive game in the Arena. In the second game, Hapoel defeated the Southerners 68:88 and won the first championship in the club's history. Yotam Halperin got to hoist the championship plate in front of thousands of excited Reds in the Arena, and Hapoel celebrated a historic title. An equally significant moment, which will forever be remembered in Israeli basketball, was the mention of the Hapoel fans who were no longer with us by Yotam Halperin, just before the Champaionsip plate was lifted.
In the 15/16 season, Hapoel again reached the Final Four but surrendered in the final minutes and lost the title to Maccabi Rishon Le'Zion. The following season, the Reds returned stronger and with an unexpected player who landed at the club. Amare Stoudemire, who starred in the NBA for many years, decided to join the club and amazed the Reds fans and other basketball fans in Israel and around the world. Together with Halperin, Eliyahu, and Timor, and with the addition of Jerome Dyson, Terence Kinsey, and Curtis Jarles, and led by coach Simone Pianjani, Hapoel reached the Final Four again—for the third time in a row—and won the second championship in the history of the club.
After that, with Oded Katash on the line and quite a few changes in the staff, Hapoel was renewed with a new and exciting version. Together with Jacoven Brown, James Feledine, Tyshon Thomas, and Suleiman Barimo, the Reds won two consecutive cups in the 18/19 and 19/20 seasons. In the 19/20 season, Hapoel passed Maccabi in the quarterfinals and beat Nahariya in the final in one of the best finals in years.
The COVID crisis
In the 19/20 season, Hapoel fielded one of the most attractive squads in the club's history and was on its way to competing for all the titles. This excellent period was interrupted by the Corona epidemic, which drove the crowd out of the courts and caused many players to leave. The good form in Europe was also interrupted by the plague with the postponement of the Final 8 of the factory to next year, in which Hapoel was eliminated against Burgos.
The bad luck did not stop, and after the Corona crisis came the "Guardian of the Walls" operation, in which rockets were fired towards Jerusalem, which caused the departure of a significant number of foreigners. One of the significant victories in the aforementioned season was the great victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv with an unknown squad that included Julian Boyd, Daniel Danino, and Adi Cohen Saban. There, Hapoel defeated Maccabi with a tremendous three-point buzzer-beater by Adam Ariel (83:82). In these years, Hapoel changed a lot of coaches and players and was unable to find stability and continuity. During this time, Hapoel managed to give opportunities to young coaches such as Yonatan Alon, Yotam Halperin, and Modi Maor.
A season that will be remembered
Hapoel's change of direction back to the top of Israeli basketball took place in the 22/23 season. General manager Guy Harel, who held the position for about a decade, left the club just after he signed coach Aleksandar Dzikic. The Serbian coach put together a squad with many question marks—not flashy players, but those who formed an almost unstoppable team.
Little by little, the question marks were replaced by exclamation marks. Hapoel became one of the best defensive teams ever seen in the league, won the state cup, and reached the Champions League final for the first time in its history. Dzikic was named the coach of the season, Zach Hankins the MVP, and Or Cornelius the defensive player of the season. The all-time arena crowd record (11,600) was broken with Hapoel's biggest victory in Europe, 91:51 over AEK Athens in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. About 5,000 Reds accompanied the team to the Final Four in Malaga, where the team was only stopped in the final by the German Telekom Bonn.
The season ended on a sour note with Hapoel Tel Aviv's elimination in the semi-finals of the playoffs, but the 22–23 season will forever be remembered as one of the best in the club's history.