It’s been a slam dunk transition for the first Israeli in the National Basketball Association.
First, Omri Casspi, a 21-year-old forward from central Israel, got off to a quick start for California’s Sacramento Kings on October 28 at his NBA debut, scoring 15 points and logging three rebounds during the team’s season opener — a loss — against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Then, the 6-foot-9-inch player managed similar results during the King’s first home game November 2, contributing 15 points to help the team secure its first victory. Through his first four NBA appearances, the Yavneh native has averaged 10.8 points and 21 minutes of playing time per game, putting him in a tie for third place among the squad’s highest scorers. Praise from coaches and local media has not been far behind, with the daily newspaper the Sacramento Bee declaring, “It’s Not Taking Long for Casspi To Shine” in an appreciative headline following the Israeli’s first game at his new home arena.
A former player for Maccabi Tel Aviv, Casspi became the first Israeli selected in the opening round of the NBA draft in June, getting picked 23rd by the Kings and signing a three-year contract worth up to $3.26 million. Wearing the number 18 on his jersey, he has been cheered with Israeli flags by some Kings fans and has received support from his brother, Eitan, during his move to California.
Casspi’s initial NBA performances have been reported on extensively in Israel, but have been viewed in real time only by the most diehard of the player’s compatriots. The country’s Sport 5 channel began broadcasting Casspi’s first NBA victory at 5 a.m. local time, with presumably bleary-eyed commentators calling the game live in Hebrew.