Omri Casspi

Original Article Published on the JNS

Washington Wizards forward Deni Avdija is proudly representing Israel and Judaism on and off the court.

The 20-year-old Israeli is having a good second season in the NBA and finally having opportunities to interact with the local Jewish community. Avdija lit the menorah on the fifth night of Chanukah at the Rockville Town Center in Montgomery County, Md., 20 miles north of the team’s Capital One Arena.

He wore a white kipah, chanted the blessings, signed autographs, answered questions from fans and expressed appreciation to the members of the Jewish community who helped him celebrate his first Hanukkah away from family.

“I want to say thank you to the people who came here and supported me and light the menorah with me. Those little things with the community, especially with the Jewish community, it’s not easy to celebrate the first Hanukkah out of home,” he said.

Avdija elaborated on Thursday night’s “in-person-with-fans” event during Friday’s post-practice media session. “It was pure enjoyment to meet and share this special moment,” he said. “The love and support the Jewish community game me is unreal!”

Avdija, who is currently the only Israeli playing in the NBA, has always looked to the example set by Omri Casspi and Nadav Henefield—Israelis who also had distinguished basketball careers in the United States. “I saw what they did and knew I wanted to do that, too. I aimed for that from a young age.”

In fact, he takes his role quite seriously. “It is great representing Israel; I am trying to do my best on and off the court to give pride to my country.”

And he noted that he has always loved the “Festival of Lights.”

“My mother had a special connection to this holiday,” he related. “This is the holiday we focused most on. It is just good vibes—this holiday in Israel when I was growing up. You had sufganiyot everywhere, the songs, the menorahs … everywhere. It is just one of my favorite holidays for sure. And I wait every year to celebrate it again and again.”

On a health digression, Avdija reported that he was “not feeling well” and was “a little tired.” He is listed as “questionable-non-COVID illness” for the Friday home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Wizards, 14-8, are coming off an eight-point win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, marking their eighth home win of the season.

On Sunday, the Wizards begin a three-game road trip versus Toronto, Indiana and Detroit, and will play the next nine of 10 games on the road.

Avdija is averaging 6.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 20 minutes of playing time per game. He is second on the team in blocked shots.

“I feel stronger, more experienced,” he said, “am getting fewer foul calls and am learning something new and getting better every day.”

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Original Article Published On The JNS

In addition to his ability to roll with the punches through numerous trades in his NBA career—the first for an Israeli—Casspi will be remembered as a goodwill ambassador for Jewish causes.

When Israeli basketball player Omri Casspi announced his retirement from professional basketball this week, fans and colleagues in the United States, Israel and the world of sports management were somewhat sad and a bit disappointed, though they weren’t totally surprised. Casspi, 33, the first Israeli drafted in the NBA, played 10 seasons with an assortment of NBA teams before returning to Israel to finish out his career where it all began—with Maccabi Tel Aviv. He has been suffering from a knee injury, which prevented him from being on the court for much of the last season.

At a press conference on Sunday, Casspi reflected on his career. “Basketball gave me a lot,” he said. “I’ve reached the highest heights—playing against LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, going to the White House. I worked very, very hard to achieve what I achieved, and I’m leaving with a sigh of relief and very great satisfaction.”

The 6-foot, 9-inch forward made his professional debut in 2005, at age 17, with Maccabi Tel Aviv. In June 2009, Casspi was selected by the Sacramento Kings as the 23rd overall pick. He played for the Kings twice and did stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies. While he was cut by the Warriors during their 2017-18 championship season, the team did present him with a championship ring.

In addition to his ability to roll with the punches through numerous trades in his NBA career, Casspi will be remembered as a goodwill ambassador for Jewish and Israeli causes. He attended Jewish and Israel events in the many communities in which he played, and he stayed after games to sign autographs and pose for selfies with any child who requested one. He also brought NBA and WNBA players, as well as other celebrities, to Israel to see the country, pray at the Western Wall and eat authentic Israeli food prepared by his mother. He runs the Omri Casspi Foundation, which sponsors these trips with the aim of showing the world what Israel is really like.

Israeli professional basketball player Omri Casspi attends a special basketball Workshop with Israeli kids in Ramla on Aug. 7, 2016. Photo by Avi Dishi/Flash90

In 2017, Casspi was one of seven athletes chosen to participate in the torch-lighting ceremony of the Maccabiah Games in Israel.

‘The way he carried himself was very special’

Liron Fanan, a close friend and colleague of Casspi’s from the world of basketball in both Israel and the United States, worked hard to collect her thoughts about his big announcement before sharing them on Facebook:

“Took me a while to find the right words for this post … this is way more than basketball. @omricasspi18 your journey is an inspiration. Your hard work, dedication and toughness are the true definition of motivation. Your passion for the game made you dream big. You made it to the highest level and inspired others to work hard, believe and dream as well. I want to thank you and your family for allowing me to be a part of the family and this incredible journey. … The trips, the people and all the adventures we experienced together. The things we dreamed of and made a reality. You pushed me to go harder and you are a big part of where I am today. This is just the start of a new chapter in your journey, and I can’t wait to see the next adventure … .”

Fanan is currently director of player development and a scout for the Canton Charge, affiliated with the Cleveland Cavaliers. When she left her distinguished career with Maccabi Tel Aviv many years ago and wasn’t sure what next to do in the basketball world, she reports, “I was lucky enough to be close to Omri, 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, she 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.

Israel’s Omri Casspi, star of the Sacramento Kings basketball team of the NBA visits at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. May 01, 2011. Photo by Kobi Gideon / Flash90

Matan Siman-Tov, the current owner of 2Talent Sports Management, also speaks highly of his friend. “To me, Omri means the world. He introduced me to the world of the NBA and to the world of being an ambassador, to the world of being a role model. Twelve years ago when I started the agency, I was privileged to have a partner, Liron Fanan; a guy by the name of Omri Casspi introduced us to the world of professionalism. The way he worked out, the way he carried himself was very special. Omri taught me a lot; he made me a better person and a better agent.”

In a video statement, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wished Casspi well. “Congratulations on a fantastic NBA career. Of course, you were the first player from Israel to play in this league and everyone in Israel is aware of that, but you’re not the last, of course. Many players have learned from you and followed in your footsteps. I know you will continue working with us at the NBA. You have so much to offer the game.”

And, being that he is only in his early 30s, the world as well. The Jewish, Israeli and basketball worlds eagerly await news of Casspi’s next pursuit.

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Original Article published on The Jerusalem Post

Our American correspondent goes one on one with Israel’s first NBA player

He is a rock star! Sacramento Kings assistant coach Mario Elie said as he watched from the side of the court at New York City famed Madison Square Garden. Rookie Omri Casspi smiled as he signed pictures, jerseys and even Israeli flags for loyal Jewish and Israeli fans. I’m excited to be part of Omripalooza! commented another fan. When Casspi began addressing the pre-game crowd on Jewish Heritage Night, thousands began chanting, Omri Casspi! He patiently answered the questions which he has been answering in stadiums across the country: What is it like being the first Israeli in the NBA? Who are your heroes? Do you miss Israel?.

Casspi, 21, has had a very successful rookie year. The handsome, good natured forward from Yavne has become a true star and fan favorite on and off the court. He averages 11 points, five rebounds and one assist per game, scored a career high 24 points against the Phoenix Suns, and participated in the Rookies versus Sophomore game and the HORSE competition at the 2010 NBA All Star Game.

Casspi had a great night against the Knicks. At the post-game press conference, Casspi was flocked by American and Israeli reporters. One noted the irony: 18 points – CHAI – for number 18 in the purple Kings jersey!

Casspi’s Jewish Heritage Tour continued recently in New Jersey, against the Nets. Or Rujdera was lucky enough to be visiting the States from Netanya and came to the game with his father. Or, decked out in his bright purple #18 Sacramento Kings jersey wasn’t at all disappointed by Casspi scoring only two points, seconds before the final buzzer. The seventeen year old was proud that he and his friends get up at 4am in Israel twice a week to watch Casspi play. Just a few short years ago, Casspi himself was waking up at 4am to watch his hero, Michael Jordan, play basketball!

Casspi was born into a sporting family and began playing basketball at an early age. He played for several local teams and at age 13 moved to the Maccabi Tel Aviv youth team. At 17, Casspi turned pro, playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv. In 2009, Casspi was drafted in the first round (23rd overall) by the Sacramento Kings, signing a three year contract worth $3.5 million.

The Casspi family is very close and very athletic. His brother, Eitan, lives and travels with him while in the States. His sister, Aviv, 16, is a serious basketball player for Elitzur Holon and may even make it to the WNBA. His father, Shimon is a great tennis player and mother, Eliana, was a competitive basketball player herself. They take turns coming to the States to watch Omri play!

Casspi understands what it means to represent Israel and the Jewish People. I feel great pride being Jewish and Israeli, and a lot of responsibility. I feel happy being Israeli and Jewish every time I step on the court. At the end of the season, he will return to Israel and play for Israel’s National Team.

Casspi is truly blessed; he is a talented athlete surrounded by supportive family, teammates and fans. And he is a true mentsch! We have high hopes for Casspi as he continues to be Israel’s ambassador around the world.

Do you miss Israel?
I miss home. My family and friends are there. But I have gotten used to living in the States; it is pretty comfortable now.

Do you ever feel affected by the current political situation between the US and Israel?
I’m reading and trying to be as connected as possible. However, I’m mostly focusing on basketball.

What is your current relationship with Maccabi Electra?
They are my friends and it was my home for over 8 years.

Tell us about your sister, Aviv, and her hopes for the WNBA.
She is 16 and plays for Elitzur Holon. She is very talented. We pray for her. You never know!

Who are your mentors at the Kings?
Francisco Garcia (#32, a guard) has really shown me the ropes.

What has been the biggest adjustment playing in the NBA?
Getting used to the athleticism, physicality and nightly games.

You have worn lots of different numbers so far. Now you are wearing #18…
I wear #18 because it is symbolic to our Jewish community. It means life. I plan to wear it from now on!

Tell us about your army service.
Army service is an important part of growing up in Israel. I did it, my brother did it, my father all my friends. I was a sports counselor for three years. I taught, refereed and played. The army really helped me. It was a good experience.

What does it mean to you to be the first Israeli in the NBA?
It is a great honor. I am trying to be the best player and the best example I can be.

Favorite Jewish holiday?
Chanukah. I love sufganiyot!

Did you celebrate your bar mitzvah?
Yes, at home in Israel. I went to my local synagogue on Shabbat, read Torah, everything. We took a family trip to the States, which is when the Nike Commercial was filmed.

Other sports you love?
Soccer and tennis.

Favorite food other than hummus?
Italian pasta, chicken, pizza.

Shoe size?
13. At games I usually wear black Nike’s with a white swoosh.

Favorite movie?
Currently Avatar. In general, Lord of the Rings.

Favorite music?
I love Israeli music Shlomo Artzi, Eyal Golan, Muki.

How did you spend Yom Haatzmaut?
I was at home in Israel with my family and friends having a barbecue!

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