Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
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Israeli Basketball Star Suspended For Calling Opponent A Nazi

Illustration for article titled Israeli Basketball Star Suspended For Calling Opponent A Nazi

Basketball trash-talking is universal, but there's a line. Guy Pnini, the captain of Israeli basketball's most famous and most successful team, genocided the fuck out of that line on Sunday, as his Maccabi Tel Aviv hosted crosstown rivals Hapoel.

Throughout the game, Pnini taunted [Jonathan] Skjöldebrand, a Swedish-Israeli player with blond hair and blue eyes, calling him a "German Nazi," "a son of a bitch" and "trash" - and wishing him "brain cancer." At pone point, Pnini taunted his opponent and then, inching toward Skjöldebrand, whispered, "May your father die."


Hapoel filed an official complaint, and a national sports network aired footage of the confrontations, bringing in lip-readers to decipher Pnini's comments. Amid a national uproar, Maccabi Tel Aviv announced yesterday that Pnini is suspended indefinitely, fined $25,000, and stripped of his captaincy.

Maccabi-Hapoel is one of Israel's biggest oldest rivalries, and fan behavior in the past has resembled the worst of European soccer hooligans. The annual matchup between the two was called off six years ago, in part because Hapoel fans wouldn't stop chanting about how Maccabi would suffer a holocaust. Sunday's game was the first resumption of the derby, and it followed weeks of vitriol from both sides.

Adding fuel to the fire, Pnini used to be a star for Hapoel. In 2008, he signed a contract with Maccabi—while he still had a year to go on his Hapoel deal. The league banned him for a year.

Pnini offered a public statement in the wake of his suspension:

"I want to apologize to Jonathan and his family, to Maccabi Tel Aviv, sports fans, and to anyone who took offense by what was said. I also wish to express my sincere apologies to my family who are Holocaust survivors. I have disappointed my club, family, friends, fans but most importantly, myself. I'm ashamed of myself and of my actions. I will respect any decision that the club will take, and will do anything to make up for the mistake I made."