Israeli NBA player Omri Casspi and some of his fellow basketball stars are in Israel to witness first hand life in the Jewish state fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Accompanying Casspi to Israel are his Sacramento Kings teammates DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Caron Butler, as well as other NBA notables Chandler Parsons, Tyreke Evans, Iman Shumpert and newly signed Washington Wizard Alan Anderson.
Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, casino mogul and owner of Yisrael Hayom and Makor Rishon newspapers, sponsored the flight of the NBA stars on his private jet. The trip was approved by NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
Casspi, who just resigned a two-year deal with the Kings, was involved in organizing every aspect of the trip. The players, under Casspi’s leadership, are participating in events with two local basketball rivals, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem.
They will also take part in philanthropic events across Israel, some of which were organized by the league sponsored NBA Cares program.
“They were working with the kids here practicing passing and scoring,” said Casspi, as quoted by Walla!, about the work the players were doing in the Jerusalem basketball workshop. “The players are giving them bona fide pointers from their NBA experience, in an effort to help these kids advance. They only arrived two days ago and are still getting over their jet-lag.”
The NBA players are also heading to outlying communities in Israel to understand the full range of Israelis and help out with communities across the country.
The group of players came with a few preconceived notions about Israel which Casspi is hoping to dispel. “For most of them it is their first time in Israel. They are here and now they get to see who we really are, from a variety of perspectives. Some of them thought that people here were running around and shooting each other in the street. And now they see how different the reality is versus what they thought is going on here. It is a lot of fun to see them playing with the local kids, and it was a really moving experience to be at the Western Wall,” Casspi exclaimed.
Former Miami Heat player, and Hapoel Jerusalem player, Roger Mason Jr., who also attended the trip explained, “It’s great to be back here. We were in Jerusalem yesterday, and it brought back a lot of memories. I heard they won a championship. They have one of the greatest group of fans anywhere, and I cheer them on from afar.”
Regarding the experience of the other players, who have never been here before, Mason said, “I think they really enjoyed it. The media never shows how wonderful this country is. I think this can really help Israel’s image. People in America will see video clips of what is going on here, and will begin to understand what is really happening.”
Cleveland Cavalier Iman Shumpert said of his experience on the trip thus far: “I knew this country was a beautiful place. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but so far on this trip everything has been really positive. We’ve had a great week so far. We hope that we can continue to help out these kids.”
Chandler Parsons of the Dallas Mavericks explained how his visit to Israel has exceeded all of his expectations. “Gal Mekel told me that this was an incredible place. I have never eaten so much Hummus in my life. This is an experience that I will never forget. Going to the Western Wall was simply amazing.”
Caspi and company attended the newly opened Friends of Zion Museum, which is dedicated to commemorating those non-Jews who helped Israel over the past 200 years. Following the visit Casspi said that “anyone who visits the Friends of Zion Museum, knows that working together and acceptance, is a better tactic than divestment and boycotts. This trip is of utmost importance, because the next generation in America really respects the opinions of celebrities and sports players.”
The trip, which began last Friday, continues with visits to Tel Aviv as well as outlying communities this week until Thursday.