«McLeod ought to be put to first plane home!» said the Rapla TYCO basketball team head coach Indrek Ruut, passing Alar Varrak, colleague from Kalev/Cramo. Not joking, as evident by his obvious irritation and the threat of physical penalty for the American player in his voice. «Hey, behold now the tough guy!» Mr Varrak, interviewed by journalists, yelled after him.
Such were the feelings let loose following the third game in Estonian championship league semi-finals between Kalev and Rapla. Kalev winning 80:69 and securing a place in the finals.
Emotions hit peak level in middle of fourth quarter, the Kalev point guard Keith McLeod, in midfield, losing the ball to Martin Dorbek. Both fell, grabbing the ball tight. The referees ruled jump ball. Then, however, Mr McLeod decided to land his fist in Mr Dorbek’s face. Whatever led the former NBA player to such violence, only the two of them know. Mr McLeod was removed from the game. Mr Dorbek claimed he said nothing ugly to the opponent, and that he hurt him not.
«I didn’t say anything to him. What I said, I said after the blow. I don’t know why he did this, maybe NBA guys are not supposed to lose the ball to an Estonian,» said Mr Dorbek. «The punch wasn’t so hard, actually. At first I was shocked, however, felt like the eyelid went the wrong way for a moment.» The war of words that followed demanded intervention by teammates from both sides, to avoid a fight.
Mr Dorbek failed to score from the free throws, but was effective in two following attacks and, for a while, Rapla pulled away by 7 points. Then, however, Tanel Sokk – McLeod’s replacement – grabbed the reigns and scored multiple times in a row, securing Kalev a comfortable lead again.
«We became a bit edgy,» admitted Mr Sokk. «It was not us, only; we were helped. All three games, Rapla played real forceful in defence.» Mr Varrak was harsher: «It was just waiting to happen. The entire three games I’ve been saying this, as referees may confirm. I had to hold my players back.»
Mr Varrak avoided direct accusations, however, as these would lead to a fine. Still, he listed situations where the Rapla players allegedly hurt the Kalev guys on purpose. «My players will understand what I’m talking about,» he claimed and added that Mr McLeod will probably make it with one game ban only. «For sure, we’ll present our vision of what took place.»
In the final match, Kalev quickly took the lead and was ahead by some 20 points up to the first part of third quarter. Then, Rapla sharpened their game.
«I was prepared for that,» claims Mr Ruut. «I know my guys well, used to play myself not so long ago; I know that when losing 0:2, it’s hard to be motivated at the start of third game. At the break, I talked nice, yelled a little bit. Asked if we’ll just let then knock us out or prove to be men.»
Looking back at the series, Mr Varrak was emotionless. «So what… they never would have won these three games anyway,» he announced peacefully.
Kalev/Cramo beat TYCO Rapla, 3:0, in semi-finals.