This week, Sports Illustrated published a feature on Sacramento Kings rookie forward Omri Casspi, the first Israeli player in the NBA (Tablet Magazine profiled him last summer). Fun facts about Casspi abound: per his father’s request, two Israeli flags fly at every Sacramento home game; Casspi wears number 18, for chai. And there’s this: “When NBA commissioner David Stern announced that Sacramento was selecting Casspi, Stern cracked a smile, which Casspi maintains was a little wider than usual. ‘Because he’s Jewish,’ Casspi reasons.”
You also learn about the rich history of Jews in professional basketball. Brooklyn’s Ossie Schectman scored the first-ever basket in the NBA’s precursor league; Dolph Schayes was a 12-time All Star and is in the Basketball Hall of Fame (he also now checks the Kings box score after every game). Meanwhile, Israeli Mickey Berkowitz was likely good enough to play stateside in the late ‘70s, but Maccabi Tel Aviv—which was also Casspi’s squad—would not let him out of his contract.
When this article went to press, Casspi was the Kings’ seventh man (which is fantastic for a rookie). Since then, however, he got his first start. This week may not be the last time Casspi makes SI’s pages.
Welcome, The King of Israel [Sports Illustrated]
Related: Draft Notice [Tablet Magazine]