The ranks of the National Basketball Association have become decidedly more international in recent years. Steve Nash, the MVP two seasons running, was born in Canada to South African parents. Yao Ming, the top young center in the league, is from China. The star of the Dallas Mavericks is Dirk Nowitzki, a German national.
Another flag was potentially planted this week when the Seattle Supersonics offered a contract to 6 foot 5 inch Israeli guard Yotam Halperin.
Though not as explosive as some of the NBA’s homegrown guards, Halperin possesses a cucumber-cool demeanor that belies his skillful ball handling, eagle-eye court vision and well-honed basketball instincts. He brings considerably more basketball experience to the league than most 22 year olds. A Tel Aviv native, he was noticed by Maccabi Tel Aviv (the New York Yankees of Israeli Basketball) at an early age; he joined Maccabi’s youth system a few months after his eighth birthday and has been groomed for stardom ever since. At every level of play, going back to his teenage years, he was the top European scorer in practically every competition and tournament he ever took part in.
Halperin’s agent flew to Israel with the Sonics’ one-year contract in hand Monday, but there’s a possible fly in the ointment: The guard already signed a contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv earlier this summer. He can be bought out of it, but Maccabi could choose to make the process difficult; however, this is the moment that the team has been guiding Halperin toward for most of his life. And if he works out, Maccabi will have proven to be a legitimate training ground for the NBA — and the team’s own star will rise in the process.