Liron Fanan

The Original Article Published On The Jewish News Syndicate

The Israeli basketball star notes that he is “excited to play against the NBA greats—all the guys I played against when I was little … in video games!”

Israel’s Deni Avdija recently moved from Israel to Washington, found an apartment, met with the media at a Washington Wizards press conference and ate his first meal at Chipotle Mexican Grill. “I really liked the idea of Chipotle. I like to eat healthy. And it was kind of healthy!”

Avdija, the 19-year-old Maccabi Tel Aviv phenom, was taken No. 9 overall by the Wizards in the recent NBA Draft. The 6-foot-9 inch, 225-pound forward is excited to play in the NBA and understands what it means to make it to the most elite league in the sport and to represent Israel. “I worked so hard to get here. I am here to show Israelis there is no limit.”

In a pre-season debut on Sunday night at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., he played a near-perfect game to the delight of fans—Israeli, Jewish and otherwise. The Wizards have also embraced Israel, where basketball is one of the nation’s top sports, and launched a Twitter account in Hebrew.

Israeli-born Liron Fanan, a scout for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the director of player development for the Canton Charge of NBA’s G League (and a minor league affiliate of the Cleveland Cavaliers) stresses the importance of Avdija drafting so high and playing in the NBA for Israelis. “It is a great accomplishment for Israel to have another Israeli in the NBA. When Omri [Casspi] went, it made a huge impact. We see where Israel basketball has gone in the 11 years that he played. It got bigger and better, and pushed kids to believe it is possible and to give their all—not just to see basketball as a hobby, but they can dream about the NBA. Deni is a vivid example of it. He probably watched Omri at night and dreamed!”

She also points out that another Israeli was picked in the recent NBA Draft.

“Yam Madar is also a great player. I think Deni helped Yam as well since scouts were watching Israel basketball more,” she says. “This is huge for Israel basketball.”

Madar was drafted by the Boston Celtics and will remain with his current team, Hapoel Tel Aviv of Israeli’s Premier League, for at least one more season. “It puts Israel on the sports map in the world and gives kids reason to keep trying their best,” adds Fanan.

Avdija spoke with the media about the contrast between growing up and playing in Israel, and now playing being on a bigger stage in a much bigger country. “I grew up in a comfortable environment where everyone knew me,” he says. “Now is a new beginning, a new career. It’s like starting over again. I am a tough kid who has been through a lot. I am ready!”

And he will have the support of the local Jewish and Israeli communities. Casspi, his mentor and friend who played 11 years in the NBA, has helped prepare Avdija for the experience. Casspi is well-known for representing Israel and Judaism in a positive way, including speaking with and signing autographs for his many fans, and for bringing fellow NBA players to visit Israel—often with a visit to his parents’ home for a meal. Casspi has also participated in Basketball Without Borders, a program sponsored by the NBA and other organizations that brings together the top 60 or more boys and girls ages 17 and under from 22 countries. The group traveled to Israel in 2017.

Once it is deemed safe in terms of the coronavirus, Avdija is looking forward to interacting with audiences. “Israeli fans are the best,” he exclaims. “There are Israeli and Jewish fans in the United States, and I will have their support. I will represent Israel and the Jewish community the best as I can.”

‘A major chapter in the country’s basketball story’

Matthew Levitt, a Fromer-Wexler Fellow and the director of the Jeanette and Eli Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism & Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, appreciates both Avdija’s basketball skills and the educational prospects his playing in Washington have to offer. “It will also be an opportunity for D.C. sports fans to get to know an Israeli athlete who reflects aspects of Israeli culture they may not be familiar with,” he said. “Israeli society is about more than conflict and religion. The child of a Muslim father and Jewish mother who grew up on a kibbutz, Avdija may challenge some common misperceptions about Israel. He will certainly challenge those assigned to defend him on the court!”

Marc Stein, the NBA correspondent for The New York Times, notes a wonderful irony in Avdija, a Maccabi Tel Aviv star, who is now joining the Washington Wizards. “People may not remember that the Wizards, then known as the Bullets, were the first NBA franchise to play Maccabi in the late 1970s, and now Deni goes to the nation’s capital as the first NBA lottery pick in Israeli history,” he writes. “It’s a great opportunity for him because the Wizards wanted him badly and never thought he would slip to them at No. 9, and it’s obviously a major chapter in the country’s basketball story.”

An additional irony is that Avdija joins the team whose name was changed from Bullets, stemming directly from the sadness then team owner Abe Pollin felt when his dear friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated by a bullet in 1995.

While eager to start his NBA career, Avdija realizes that he will miss a lot of things about Israel, including friends and family. He quips that he will also miss good Israeli hummus, but adds that “hopefully, good guides will show me some.”

One reporter on the recent Zoom media session pointed out that there indeed is a restaurant that serves the iconic Middle Easter dish very close to the Capital One Arena. Avdija was pleased.

He also acknowledges he will miss Israel’s stunning shorelines. “I love to go to the beach, but it is not an option. I will find new hobbies for sure.”

The youthful Avdija playfully notes that he is “excited to play against the NBA greats—all the guys I played against when I was little … in video games!”

In fact, he continues to be positive about all that awaits. After all, he declares: “You gotta do what you gotta do!”

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Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

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.”

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