Omri Casspi, the first Israeli player in the NBA, brought fellow basketball stars to Israel this summer so they could see his home country for themselves. A profile of the trip was published in The New Yorker on Thursday.
Casspi explained founded a charity last year to challenge negative perceptions about Israel propagated by the American media.
“Throughout my six years in the league a lot of players asked me about Israel. ‘How is it over there?’ ‘I’ve heard good things,’ ‘I’ve heard bad things,’ you know. So why not come with me? You can see it through my eyes and through your own eyes—a different perspective from what you’ve heard,” Casspi said on the phone from Israel, where he is training with the country’s national team.
The trip included Casspi’s Sacramento Kings teammates, two-time All Star Caron Butler and Team USA center DeMarcus Cousins; former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans of the New Orleans Pelicans; Iman Shumpert of the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers; and Chandler Parsons of the Dallas Mavericks.
While Casspi and entrepreneur/trip organizer David Schottenstein have been vocal about their support for Israel, they say that the the trips just about having fun, rather than pushing a political message.
Casspi similarly disavowed political intentions, and described the trip as a way to show his friends “his side of the world.” He spoke of sharing the pleasures of Israeli cuisine—hummus and falafel, in particular—and the wonders of the country’s history. He compared the trip to the San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker or the Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari bringing friends home to their native countries. “Obviously Israel is a little different” from France (Parker) and Italy (Gallinari), he conceded. But the principle was the same, he said, and he didn’t want to see “any stupid articles, really ignorant articles, saying ‘Stop Israel.’ There’s nothing political about it. It’s about having fun.”
It was also, according to both Casspi and Schottenstein, about changing American impressions of the country, particularly the “super-totalitarian, apartheid image,” which Schottenstein dismissed as “bogus.” “When you tell someone you’re going to Israel and they’re not that familiar with Israel, they say, ‘Oh, be safe, be careful!’ They think you’re going into a war zone,” Schottenstein said. He sees the trip as a way to showcase the country’s safety and its freedoms. The schedule also allowed for extracurricular activities, especially in Tel Aviv. “We went out, stayed out pretty late,” Schottenstein said. “You think you’ve been somewhere that’s a combination of Florida and Italy: all these historical sites and important places to visit, and at the same time, all the amenities of going to Miami,” he added.
The social media accounts of the players on the trip seemed to show that Casspi and Schottenstein accomplished their goal of having fun.
Schottenstein and Casspi have ambitious plans for future trips, possibly including top players like the future Hall of Famer LeBron James of the Cavaliers or reigning league MVP Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Future trips could also include an exhibition game against the Israeli team Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“One of the goals is: the way people interact, get the information these days, a lot of it comes from things like social media,” Schottenstein told The New Yorker. “You’ve got a guy like LeBron with twenty million followers who are all looking at his posts, and he’s posting great pictures from Israel of him having a great time in this beautiful place.”
[Photo: i24News / YouTube ]