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Sen. Inouye’s influence extended into sports realm

By Ferd Lewis


It was 2000 and the University of Hawaii men’s basketball team faced a seemingly insurmountable obstacle as it prepared for the upcoming season.

Its prize recruit, center Haim Shimonovich, owed the Israeli military several more months of mandatory service, meaning the Rainbow Warriors would miss out on him for the 2000-01 season.

“(Assistant coach) Scott Rigot, who was recruiting him, called me and said, ‘Isn’t there any way we can get him out earlier,’ ” then-head coach Riley Wallace recalled. “He asked me, ‘Do you have any connections in Israel?’ ”

Wallace didn’t, but UH had a powerful friend in Washington D.C., Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.

“Senator Inouye picked up the phone and called Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon,” Wallace said. “And the prime minister called the secretary general of sports. That’s how we got Haim early.”

Even in sports, far from traditional pork barrel issues, it seemed, Sen. Inouye was able to wield his considerable power for Hawaii.

Inouye died Monday at age 88.

Twelve years later the ease with which the senator was able to come to UH’s rescue is still a source of amazement for Wallace.

“All he had to do was pick up the phone. He went right to the top and got it done,” Wallace said. “Who else could call the prime minister of Israel and get something like that done?”

Shimonovich, a 6-foot-10, 245-pounder from Rishon LeZion, Israel, gave UH a strong inside presence from his first appearance, eventually becoming one of the school’s career leaders in rebounding (fourth) and blocked shots (third).

He helped the ’Bows to two NCAA Tournament berths and two National Invitation Tournament appearances in his four seasons, the best postseason stretch in school history. 

During Shimonovich’s stay, UH went 84-44, including a school-record 27 victories in 2001-02, and won two Western Athletic Conference tournament titles.

“(Inouye) was a UH fan, and the only thing he asked before he did it was to make sure everything was on the up and up,” Wallace said.

Years later on a shared trip to Molokai, Wallace was able to thank the senator in person.

“He said he was glad to do it,” Wallace said. “He didn’t want any (publicity) for himself.”

Decades earlier, Inouye was said to have been well in the background as then-Gov. John A. Burns and the 442nd Veterans Club secured a temporary waiver that allowed budding sumotori Jesse Kuhaulua of Maui to initially go to Japan before reporting for his national guard examinations. 

Later on, following a trailblazing sumo career, Kuhaulua recalled, “The senator told me he thought I would have made a good policeman for the Honolulu Police Department, if I had stayed.”


Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com or 529-4820.


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4watitsworth wrote:
Halm served most of his three year obligation to the military and was asked to be released a few months early. It must have not been a big deal if Israel agreed to it--they could have said no if it was necessary for Halm to complete his service. Senator Inouye did not make any deals, only a request. This is a time to pay your respects to a great man and not be cynical. Did your parents teach you "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"?
on December 18,2012 | 06:08AM
mishtah wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on December 18,2012 | 08:41AM
HawaiiMongoose wrote:
I understand your point of view. Here is how I see it. Haim played in 128 games for UH. His performances were viewed by literally hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens all over the western U.S. A lot of those folks watching those games no doubt engaged in a conversation something like this: "What kind of name is Shimonovich?" "Oh, he's Israeli." "I didn't know basketball was a big deal in Israel. Interesting." And as a result those individuals would have internalized one more commonality between the U.S. and Israel, strengthening the relationship between the countries in a very limited but nonetheless positive way. From that perspective I think Haim made a greater contribution to Israel and its people playing with a rubber ball than he would have made if he had spent a few extra months carrying a rifle.
on December 19,2012 | 11:06AM
paintslinger wrote:
Your problem pal is you seem to live in a 'black and white' world. A literalist --everything for you is cut and dried, no nuance. I'm happy to inform you Mishtah, the life is not that way...almost never!!
on December 18,2012 | 08:49AM
808comp wrote:
That's politics. The Israeli's wanted something in return.Isn't that how politics works, you do me a favor in in return we'll do you a favor.This is why you can have a newcomer elected and expect things to change,only to find out that he/she after a few years will end up just like the people that;s been there forever. If you don't play ball with them you are not getting anything. This is my personal opinion.
on December 18,2012 | 10:12AM
kahu808 wrote:
Inouye was one of Israel's best friends so it wouldn't have been much of a stretch.
on December 18,2012 | 03:19PM
HawaiiMongoose wrote:
Following up on my response to mishtah above, I'd forgotten that several of Haim's games -- in the WAC tournament and NCAA tournament -- were nationally televised. So his play was viewed by millions, not hundreds of thousands, of Americans.
on December 19,2012 | 11:10AM
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