Sports

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.”

Read more

Original Article at JNS

The Jewish Tennis Project is a nonprofit foundation that seeks to provide participants with the opportunity to train and reach a world-class, competitive level of play, combining tennis instruction with education to instill a connection to Jewish culture and Israel.

Israeli tennis legends Shlomo Glickstein and Shahar Peer continue to represent Israel and the Jewish people on and off the court. The two top players were honored at a series of events in mid-March in South Florida marking the launch of the Jewish Tennis Project (JTP).

The JTP is a nonprofit foundation that seeks to provide Jewish tennis players an opportunity to train and reach a world-class, competitive level of play. The program combines tennis instruction with high-quality education geared to instill a deep connection to Jewish culture and Israel.

The idea grew out of a four-week visit to Hungary by Assaf Ingber, Israeli high-performance coach and former coach of Israeli tennis player Julia Glushko. Ingber spent a summer teaching tennis at Szarvas, a summer-camp program in Hungary that serves 1,600 children from 30 countries in a series of 12-day sessions.

“I heard the kids say what it means to them and how it changed their lives,” reports Ingber, referring to the sense of Jewish identity the participants gained at the camp, immersed in Jewish living and learning. Ingber reflected on his own experience as a child athlete: “When I was a player, all I did was play tennis, only hitting the ball.” He had little time to focus on Jewish culture and identity.

Ingber notes that “the JTP program combines top-level tennis, including the best facilities, atmosphere and tournaments, with a secular and Jewish education.” He is realistic in also noting the need to provide an education for the aspiring tennis players. “Just in case their children don’t become [Roger] Federer or Serena [Williams], they will have a tennis education, and a general and Jewish education.”

Israeli tennis pros Shahar Peer and Shlomo Glickstein with chairman Ian Halperin and founder Assaf Ingber at the Pro-AM event in Aventura, Fla. Credit: Jewish Tennis Project.

The program is part of the David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie, Fla. “It is such a good educational environment with great courts and gyms—and their Jewish identity won’t suffer,” says Ingber. “They won’t have to feel shy, scared or insecure to say they are Jewish.”

The program will initially support five or six students, including two Israelis, which Ingber feels will “help integration and make the program great.” The American students will also hear Hebrew and develop a connection with Israel. The goal of the program is to train 20 to 30 students into high-performance players in the first two years at bases in both Davie and Aventura, Fla. Programs will also take place in Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Brazil, serving a total of 500 young players at all levels. Participants will share Jewish experiences and travel to Israel.

‘Very positive, professional, educational project’

Shlomo Glickstein, who retired from professional tennis in 1988, reached a career-high singles’ ranking of World No. 22, played in all four tennis Grand Slams and reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 1981, was on hand in Florida to play in a number of exhibition matches, as well as coach local children and greet supporters.

Glickstein served until recently as CEO of the Israel Tennis Association. He was approached by Ingber about potentially getting involved in a number of tennis-related projects. “I thought the JTP program was a very positive, professional, educational project, so I got involved,” he reports. He reiterates the goals of the program: “to give mainly Jewish American kids a chance to get to the top of the tennis world, to get a Jewish education and to connect to Israel. It will also give them an opportunity to connect to all of the Jewish people in Florida and elsewhere.”

Shahar Peer, 31 and five months pregnant, enjoyed participating in the JTP kickoff. “It was an honor to join the JTP at their event last weekend in Florida. I enjoyed sharing the court with Shlomo and coming out to support this important new program to develop Jewish tennis players. It is exciting that there is a program to focus on tennis skills, Jewish identity and connection to Israel.”

Peer reached the highest ranking of any Israeli tennis player in history: Her best singles’ ranking was No. 11; she reached No. 14 in doubles. She won five career singles and three doubles titles on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour. Peer retired from professional tennis in February 2017

Fans were impressed with Glickstein and Peer’s commitment to the new organization—and, of course, with their skills on the court. In a phone interview with JNS in Israel, Glickstein says he “plays sometimes,” noting that “you never forget how to play; it is still in your blood.”

He adds, “I can still hit the ball,” though concedes that it’s “a little harder on the legs. I don’t move as well as I used to!”

Canadian documentary filmmaker, writer and investigative journalist Ian Halperin was one of the honored guests at the March 16 weekend tennis event. He is the author and/or co-author of nine books about such celebrities as Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, James Taylor and Kurt Cobain. He recently served as executive producer of the movie, “Wish You Weren’t Here: The Dark Side of Roger Waters.”

Halperin shares that his father, a Holocaust survivor, had to hide in a hole when he was 6 years old to survive. “When Roger Waters said that Israel is worse than Nazi Germany, I couldn’t stand it.” He made the film about Waters, following him all over North America in the attempt to get “under his skin.”

But the weekend in South Florida was not at controversial. An elated Halperin tweeted a picture with himself, Peer and Glickstein and wrote, “Honored to have played this weekend with top two Israeli players ever, Shahar Peer and Shlomo Glickstein. Jewish Tennis Project #saynotobds.”

Halperin states that “Glickstein is to Israeli and Jewish athletes what Jackie Robinson was to the African-American community!” He was impressed that both sports stars played three hours a day “and didn’t miss a ball.” Halpern describes Peer as “the best volleyer in the game, even at five months pregnant.”

He says the “weekend was monumental and historic,” as it not only brought the top two Israeli tennis legends on the same court, but more importantly, put smiles on the kids’ faces.

Read more

Original Article Published at The Jerusalem post

This year’s US Open attracted more than 30,000 fans each day of the two-week tournament. And any time a Jewish or Israeli fan saw “ISR” next to a player’s name, they raced to the court to watch players like Dudi Sela, Yshai Oliel and Shelly Krolitzky. The same is true when such Israeli players as Shahar Pe’er, Julia Glushko and Amir Weintraub are in action.

Perhaps more significant is the fact that hundreds of non-Jewish, non-Israeli fans also watch Israel tennis players in action each year at the US Open and at dozens of other tennis tournaments around the world.

Israeli tennis players are excellent emissaries for Israel and can do amazing things for Israeli hasbara (public relations).

The Israeli tennis establishment can take a lesson from the Jewish Agency Shlichim (the Hebrew word for emissaries) program. In some ways, they are already doing a great job sending tennis ambassadors around the world. There is more work to do and some pretty easy solutions.

The Jewish Agency does a great job screening and training post-army (and in some cases, pre-army) young men and women to serve Jewish communities, camps and schools. They bring the multi-faceted people, cultures and stories of Israel and Israelis to these various communities.

The Israel tennis establishment, consisting primarily of the Israel Tennis Association, Israel Tennis Centers and the David Squad is blessed with a talented group of well-liked and well-spoken professional and amateur players of all ages who travel the world.

While their primary job is to play tennis, they represent Israel in tournaments around the world.

The Israel Tennis Centers sends a delegation of young players several times a year to exhibitions in various communities across the United States.

The group tends to reflect the diversity of Israel and Israel Tennis Centers, including players who are Ethiopian, Israeli Arab, Bedouin, people with disabilities, and children from poor backgrounds.

These groups help people better understand the many faces and stories of Israel. It is important to keep these emissaries – professional and amateur – trained and ready to speak about Israel.

There is an untapped group of tennis players from around the world who our Israel tennis establishment, Ministry of Culture and Sport and Ministry of Tourism, should also nurture as tennis ambassadors.

The more foreign tennis players have a positive experience with Israelis and Israel, the more Israel stands to make progress on the PR front.

Last February, I spent four days in Eilat covering the Fed Cup Group I Europe/Africa Zone event which included teams from 14 countries.

In Eilat, players from all countries as well as coaches, umpires and members of the media stayed in the same hotel and ate all their meals together. I interviewed many top 100 players, coaches and ITF (International Tennis Federation) staff.

I wanted to find out about their experience in Israel and with Israelis. All loved Israel but wished their busy travel and playing schedules would allow more opportunities to explore the beautiful, historically significant country of Israel.

Shlomo Glickstein, the CEO of the Israel Tennis Association and former 22nd ranked player in the world, observed that “it is very important for Israel to host such competitions and we love to host large events. It attracts sponsors, media and role models for our young players.”

These players return to their countries as great spokespeople for Israel.

Israel has an unprecedented opportunity to use tennis to teach the world about all the Holy Land has to offer. Israeli players should be coached and trained in hasbara, and players who come to Israel for tournaments should be wined and dined.

If they can’t get to see Israel, they should at least return with gift baskets stuffed with “I Love Israel” shirts, IDF hats, and such Israeli products as Ahava, Bisli and Naot.

Tennis players know all about love from the tennis scoring system. Wouldn’t it be nice if players also love Israel and spread that love around the world?

Read more

Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

Israel got Fed Cup Europe/Africa Zone Group I action in Eilat off to a losing start on Wednesday, falling 2-1 to Turkey.

Shahar Pe’er and Julia Glushko lost their singles matches to open the day before teaming up to win the doubles encounter.

Israel will be back in action on Thursday when it faces Estonia before coming up against Croatia in its final Pool C tie on Friday.

The group winner will play-off against the winner of Pool C for a place in the World Group II playoffs in Eilat on Saturday, while the bottom-placed nation will play-off to determine relegation to Europe/ Africa Zone Group II in 2017.

The stars seemed aligned and the script already written by the time Pe’er, ranked 189th in the world, took Center Court on a sunny, warm, slightly breezy Wednesday for her evening session match against Turkey’s Ipek Soylu.

Despite Soylu’s slightly better ranking of 161, Pe’er is nine years older, has Fed Cup experience, and reached a career high of 11th in the world.

Pe’er also had the crowd on her side, with school children from Eilat filling the stands and cheering, “Let’s go Shahar, let’s go.”

Soylu got off to a quick 3-0 lead until Pe’er hit her groove, regained composure and won the first set in 50 minutes, 7-5. However, Soylu went on to win the second set 6-3 and the decisive set 6-2 to claim the match.

Israel’s No. 1 Glushko (No. 126) took the court under the lights versus Caglia Buyukackcay (142). Shouts of “El, el Yisrael” and “Let’s go Julia, let’s go!” helped Glushko get off to a 3-2 lead, but she could not sustain the rhythm in falling 7-5, 6-3.

The evening ended with the Pool C doubles match between Turkey and Israel, with Pe’er and Glushko partnering to take on Buyukakcay and Basak Eraydin.

After trading back-and-forth 7-5 sets, Israel clinched the win with 6-4 in the decisive set.

The Arkia Airlines gate and flight attendants at Ben Gurion Airport hardly realized there was a major international tennis tournament taking place in Eilat this week.

Yet, professional women tennis players from 14 countries, as well as coaches, umpires, members of the media and International Tennis Federation staff members have all congregated at the Municipal Tennis Center in Eilat, home of the Fed Cup 2016 Europe/ Africa Zone Group I tournament.

Tzipi Obziler, the Israeli captain, is a former Fed Cup player, representing Israel from 1994 to 2009. Israel’s team is coached by Sandra Wasserman, a former member of the Belgium Fed Cup team who reached a high of 48 in the WTA rankings as a player.

Obziler acknowledged that “it’s been a while, but to be a part of the Fed Cup team for the 17th year and first time as a captain means a lot to me. To hear again the national anthem, to wear again the Israeli flag on the back are very emotional things for me and I can only think about doing the best we can on and off court at any time.”

The tournament features two daily sessions through Saturday.

Read more