When Omri Casspi made his NBA debut in 2009, he made NBA history. It was the first time that a player born in Israel had made it to the NBA.
Eight years later, Casspi had a full summer representing his home country. The new Warrior forward played for Israel in Eurobasket, where he averaged 14.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He also brought the sport he loves home with him, as the NBA program Basketball Without Borders visited Israel for the first time.
In an interview with Golden State of Mind, Casspi talked about his summer and what it means to make basketball more accessible and popular in Israel. If you missed part one of our interview in which we talked about his fit with the Warriors, you can read it here.
Watching the sport grow back home
Casspi has seen a dramatic change in how accessible basketball is in Israel. From League Pass, to social media, to the internet, the NBA is far more accessible internationally than it was when Casspi was a kid.
The forward told me, “I take big pride in who I am and where I’m from,” so the shift has been exciting for him to see. Suddenly, kids in his home country are in love with the sport and have professional aspirations.
“When I grew up we didn’t have a lot of NBA guys being televised back home, obviously television wasn’t as big in the 90’s,” Casspi said. “But just now having all our games being televised, guys are getting more and more involved, getting jerseys, and now walking down the street is totally different than walking down the street in Tel Aviv you know, 10, 15 years ago. There wasn’t a lot of NBA at the time, and now every kid in the country knows basketball, and loves basketball, and wants to be a part of it.”
Between the globalization and expansion of the league and kids having Casspi to look up to as a role model, there can be no doubt that basketball will continue to grow in Israel.
Using Basketball Without Borders as a platform
Basketball Without Borders was created by the NBA to help expand the sport. Every summer, Basketball Without Borders sets up camps in various parts of the world and helps teach and develop the game with players and coaches.
While this summer represented the first Basketball Without Borders camp in Israel, it was far from Casspi’s first experience with the program. After attending camps twice as a kid, Casspi has been working with Basketball Without Borders every year of his NBA career.
“I just knew that bringing Basketball Without Borders to Israel, and the coaches, and the NBA guys, and NBA GMs, and etcetera, all would create such a great experience for basketball in Israel,” Casspi said. “And obviously the guys and the coaches back home can learn a lot, and it will be a great opportunity to learn from the coaches at this level . . . Not only that, we’re working on starting an NBA Academy now back home, starting . . . probably next summer, we’re not sure about the dates yet.
“But working on NBA Academy now, we’re getting the sponsors that we need, just having so many people involved; and getting basketball bigger and bigger, and getting coaches to Israel, teaching the young generation hard work, and how to do things, can create a great buzz about basketball back home.”
For Casspi, seeing the sport grow and watching kids develop basketball dreams is rewarding, but his involvement goes beyond that. He understands that he is in a unique position and knows the importance of utilizing that.
“Showing this to the kids that they can dream, and make it, it’s not that far away,” Casspi said. “The game is being so globalized now and it’s been great, so I obviously try to do my part.”
Anyone who has played basketball knows the importance of community in the sport. Whether it’s the team you play with or the city you represent, community always has and always will be a foundational part of basketball’s identity.
For Casspi, bringing the sport back to Israel extends beyond basketball. He emphasized that giving back to the community through the NBA isn’t just about growing the sport, but growing the communities in Israel.
“Having the opportunity to work with NBA Cares, and gathering different communities, and then do stuff for the community . . . I think we definitely reached all those goals that we had for us at this thing,” Casspi said.
As globalization of the sport increases, with leaders and role models such as Casspi at the forefront, the sport itself will surely grow, both in America and in countries across the world. Programs such as Basketball Without Borders and players such as Omri Casspi ensure that the beautiful game will only get better.