Admittedly, the Abraham Accords and Israel’s exciting new relationship with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco is big news. 50,000 Israelis have reportedly traveled to UAE alone in recent months. But the biggest feel-good Israel story coming out of Israel in recent weeks is… Deni Avdija!
For those who have been living under a rock—or simply don’t follow the National Basketball Association, Deni is a 6 foot 9-inch basketball player—only 19 years old—who was drafted #9 in the NBA draft by the Washington Wizards. Avdija is the son of a Serbian Muslim father who played professional basketball both in Serbia and Israel, and an Israeli Jewish mother. He played with Maccabi Tel Aviv and just completed his shortened Tzahal (Israel Army) service where he had the status of a “sports standout.”
Following a very shortened NBA pre-season, where Deni was super successful, he stands a chance of being in the starting lineup in the Wizard’s first regular season game this Wednesday against the 76ers in Philadelphia. Head Coach Scott Brooks has started him in 2 of 3 pre-season games, and watched him successfully play off the bench in the other game. He was nearly perfect in his first game—hitting several field goals and 3 point shots, and last night, he lead both teams in rebounds with 10. Deni played 31 minutes and 38 seconds—more than any other Wizard including NBA legend, Russell Westbrook. At last night’s post-game media session, Westbrook had only amazing things to say about Deni. Westbrook has been acting like a coach and mentor to Deni.
It is remarkable how far Deni has come in such a short time. I have enjoyed watching him and asking questions at the media sessions. Yes—he will miss family, friends and the beach. Yes, he will be in search of good Israeli chumous, which another reporter pointed out he can get very near to the Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. And yes—he is very young! When I asked which of his NBA idols he was most looking forward to playing with or against, he said he didn’t have any actual idols, but he was looking forward to playing in person with guys he had only played against in video games! Wow, that is young!
I am confident that Deni will have as much class as two previous Israelis who played in the NBA—Omri Casspi and Gal Mekel. They took the job of representing Israeli very seriously—signing autographs, participating in Jewish community events and, in the case of Omri, bringing fellow NBA players to Israel.
I hope to write a lot about Deni this season—he is the best story coming out of Israel and he is great for Israel hasbara. There is even a Washington Wizards Twitter feed in Hebrew!
The three articles I have written so far are here!