The Sacramento Kings were the NBA’s worst team last year, posting a dismal 17-65 record. Yet when the new season starts in the fall, we’d bet they’ll have picked up a lot of new fans. Why? Their top draft pick, Omri Casspi, is from the Tel Aviv suburb of Yavne, and he played for Maccabi Tel Aviv, which in Israel has something like the stature of the Lakers and Celtics combined. Most importantly, Casspi will be the first Israeli to play in the NBA. So Israelis, who love only soccer more than they love basketball, have been predictably ecstatic.
Casspi is well aware of the extra weight his trailblazer status places on the shoulders of his 6-foot-9-inch frame. “I think all the eyes and ears in Israel, in basketball in Israel, are focused on me now,” he told The New York Times over the weekend. “There is big expectations, and all the Jewish community in the States is really excited about it. So I think there’s a big responsibility with it.”
The Times discloses several fun facts about Israel’s most famous 21-year-old. Casspi grew up worshipping Michael Jordan. His cell phone bill from his first two weeks stateside came to $4,500—“expensive even by NBA standards,” the paper notes. The player he models himself after is Hedo Turkoglu, who has the size of a forward but the quickness of a guard (also, similarly to Casspi, Turkoglu is a hero back home, which in his case is Turkey). Finally, we learn that, so far, American hummus has left Casspi unsatisfied. “Man, I tried it; that’s all I can say,” he says. “I will bring some from Israel, maybe. I’ll let you taste it and you tell me.”
When Tablet last covered Casspi, draft day was imminent, and we weren’t sure whether he would even get any playing time, were he picked. But a month later, he seems on pace to play a real role in the Kings’ upcoming season. In fact, last Friday, in an exhibition game in Las Vegas, Casspi contributed 11 points toward the Kings’ win over the New York Knicks (admittedly not much competition). If he keeps that level of performance up, he’ll be as popular in his new home as he is in his old one.