The Cleveland Cavaliers, the former NBA team of such basketball greats as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, as well as beloved Israelis Omri Casspi and David Blatt, ended their abysmal 2018/19 season with a 19-63 record, in 14th place out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference.
Their .232 winning percentage tied for next-to-last among the 30 teams in the entire NBA. But there is a glimmer of hope for the Cavaliers, thanks to the signing of Liron Fanan.
Fanan is not the latest up-and-coming hoops phenom. In September, the Israeli was named director of G League player development for the Cavaliers. The G League, short for sponsor, Gatorade, was formerly known as the D League and serves as the official minor league for all NBA teams. Fanan is also an important part of the Cavs scouting department
Fanan has basketball in her blood.
As Cavs GM Koby Altman said: “She’s a basketball lifer with incredible experience internationally and has great basketball acumen. We are fortunate to have her.”
Fanan is more than a lifer; she is a member of one of Israel’s most well-known basketball family. The Fanans are like Israeli basketball royalty. Liron’s father, Moni, was manager and vice chairman of Maccabi Tel Aviv for nearly 30 years. He was mostly beloved, known for his generosity and hands-on approach with his players – from meeting foreign players at the airport upon their arrival in Israel to helping them with routine household chores. Fanan was known to function as a surrogate parent for his players.
Liron’s brother, Regev, is also deeply connected to Israel basketball. He played for Maccabi Tel Aviv from 2000-2002, and again from 2004-2008 with additional playing stints with Hapoel Galil Elyon (2002-2003) and Ironi Ramat Gan (2003-2004). He has served as head strength and conditioning coach for Maccabi Tel Aviv since 2013.
“My whole life revolved around Maccabi Tel Aviv,” said Fanan to The Jerusalem Post in a phone interview from the Cavaliers’ head offices, in which she recounted her unique, enviable career path. She happily reported that she has been around basketball since she was three years old.
Fanan served in the IDF from 1997-1999 as an intelligence liaison, focusing on counterterrorism initiatives against global terrorist groups. She came to America to attend New York University in Manhattan where she received a bachelor of arts in sports marketing and sports management. Fanan could not get sports, especially basketball, out of her system.
After graduating college in 2005, she served as assistant to the Maccabi Games organizing committee chairman. From 2005-2009, Fanan was assistant general manager for Maccabi Tel Aviv, where she had a fully immersive hoops experience – she was responsible for basketball operations, marketing strategies, and ticket sales; she organized team travel and made all arrangements for tournaments, and was in charge of community relations. She also got to know then-Maccabi player Casspi personally.
Toward the end of Liron’s stint with Maccabi Tel Aviv, father Moni’s long relationship with the club came to an end. He retired in 2008 after a reported long-standing dispute with members of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s management and began working as a player agent.
One year later, his life came to a shocking and tragic end at the age of 63. Fanan reportedly took his life by hanging. He reportedly had debts amounting to millions of shekels after players invested with him on the promise of high returns.
Many from the Maccabi Tel Aviv organization including players, coaches and members of management attended his funeral and reflected on his generosity, kindness and his legacy.
The Fanan family’s impact on the world of professional basketball continues through Liron’s evolving, impressive course.
From 2009 until signing with the Cavs, Liron got to explore a different side of basketball.
“I left Maccabi Tel Aviv because I felt like I did everything I could,” she said. “I didn’t’ know if I wanted to go straight to the NBA or be an agent before. I was lucky enough to be close to Omri [Casspi] and started working with him and managing him. I connected him with his American agency and managed everything he did off court on the marketing side, and in his personal life. I did that for 10 years.”
Through her work with Casspi, Fanan decided to start her own agency, 2Talent Sports Management, where she served as an agent and player services professional. In that capacity, Fanan placed 48 players in Europe each year, signing them to teams and handling all of their needs. Clients of note have included Amar’e Stoudemire, Kostas Papanikolau, Donta Smith and Shawn James.
Fanan found that work rewarding but noted that “after 10 years of doing that, I kind of got tired. I had a lot of connections through my work in the NBA summer league doing international relations. I began telling people I was thinking of making a transition and was lucky enough to get a few offers from teams. What the Cavs offered me helped make the decision easy to come here.”
Fanan knows her job is unique and coveted by so many and doesn’t take it for granted.
“An Israeli coming to the NBA is not something you see every day,” she said. “I definitely know I should be proud of an achievement like that. I worked really, really hard in the last 15 years to get where I am today and achieve my dreams.”
Fanan’s daily life during the regular season with the Cavaliers organization consists of upwards of 90% of the time traveling. As director of G League player development for the Canton Charge, she is responsible for running day-to-day operations for the team, yet often manages to drive the 60 miles (100 km) to Cleveland for Cavaliers’ games. She is also assisting the Cavs scouting department and Altman.
Toward the end of the Cavs season, she managed to spend two weeks traveling with the team for their West Coast games.
But Fanan currently spends most of her time and energy working with her mainly 19-to-26-year-old Canton development league players. Her lifetime of acquiring technical skills and basketball know-how around the game are only part of what she taps in to in her work in player development.
“The main thing in G League is to develop guys – to give them the tools to handle all kinds of situations. I help them with all aspects of being an athlete – culture, media, finances. You can be a great talent on the court, but you need to develop as a whole person.”
This training in being part life skills coach, part big sister, and part parent comes largely from her own family.
“My dad was an owner and GM, but he was not the technical definition of a GM – players were around our house and he took care of them, like his own kids,” she recalled. “I was quite close to him and helped take care of the players’ day-to-day needs.”
Fanan acknowledged that the players relate to her “in a certain way at first,” given that she is a woman, but, “by the end of the season, they can relate to me, respect me for what I am and see that I am here to help them achieve goals on and off the court.”
Fanan has seen first-hand the impact basketball players, and all pro athletes, can have on the game and in the world, most notably from her work with Casspi, as a friend and as the mission director of the Omri Casspi Foundation from 2015-16.
“I am so proud of Omri and his ability to take his role as an NBA player and put his dream to work,” said Fanan. “He wanted to do his part to bring his NBA friends to this great country so they could see real life in Israel. I was fortune to produce it and be part of it.”
Casspi helped organize two trips to Israel as a joint initiative between NBA Cares and the Omri Casspi Foundation for 20 players, family members and friends. NBA players on the trips included DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Caron Butler, Iman Shumpert, Alan Anderson, and Chandler Parsons.
The trips included visits to historic sites in Israel, beaches, night life, restaurants, a visit to the Friends of Zion Museum to learn about the history of friendship and cooperation from non-Jews during the Holocaust and basketball clinics with Maccabi Tel Aviv’s youth clubs.
“All the players will tell you that the trip was one of the best experiences of their lives,” said Fanan.
Fanan was especially pleased that the NBA took notice of the impact and success of the trip.
“As a result, the NBA decided to run Basketball Without Borders every summer in a different country.”
Fanan is proud of her friend.
“The idea came completely from Omri. He is very creative. He felt his calling as an ambassador for Israel.”
Fanan, while not currently involved professionally with Casspi, is hopeful that Casspi will return to playing professional basketball once fully rehabbed from his recent knee surgery.
While the 2018/2019 NBA season is over for all but the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors, Fanan is still going strong.
She just returned to Cleveland after several weeks on the road scouting in both Europe and Israel. And she will be the road again until various summer leagues and camps wind down in August. Fanan hopes she will have a little time in Israel to catch up with friends and family – before a hopefully more successful 2019/20 Cavs’ season gets under way.
“My life is tiring,” Fanan admits. “But it is super exciting and I wouldn’t change a thing.”