Omri Casspi, Israel's sole representative in the NBA, started his career as the first-round draft pick of the Sacramento Kings back in 2009. Following stops in Cleveland, Houston, a return stay in Sacramento, and time during the 2016-17 season in New Orleans and Minnesota, Casspi is now just 80 miles from his Sacramento roots as a newly acquired member of the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. Casspi , who wears number 18 (chai - Hebrew for life) has been averaging (as of early December) 9.0 points (.485 FG%), 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.3 blocks in 25.8 minutes per game. His four starts to date include a 12 point, 8 rebound, 2 blocked shots performance against Brooklyn on November 19. He recently logged a 10 point, 5 rebound performance against Miami, and spoke to JewishSport.org before heading onto the court.
It's really great. For one thing, every team wants to play their best when they are playing us. Their game against the Warriors is one that is marked on their calendar. For our part each game is another day to do our job and play our best. The level of competitiveness on this team is clearly higher than on other teams I have been a part of. It means being on top of my game at all times.
First of all a sense of tranquility and calm that he gives off. Also his style play is great for the game - the ball movement and the confidence he puts in the players. It's great to play for him - to see how he runs things when things are going well and when they are going less well. It's just fun to play in this system - and I am learning from him every day.
I think by now I have developed my skill set and it's about bringing it out in play. Each year I try to learn and improve. Everything I have learned so far has brought me to this point. This year it's been about being part of a team that has another league title - God willing - in our sights. I am a more mature player. I came here as a 21-year-old kid and now I am Baruch HaShem married and a father.(Casspi and his wife Shani welcomed daughter Sarit in July, around the time he signed with the Warriors.)
I wanted to be a kind of "good will ambassador" for Israel, but also it was a nice way to bond with teammates. The primary goal was to have fun. I wanted them to see how beautiful the country is, how diversified the population, and to experience our "hachnasat orchim" (hospitality). But also to get a first-hand understanding of our situation in Israel, to see things through my eyes, and to make a connection between athletes who have a big following on social media and Israel. The athletes posted photos of their time at the Dead Sea and other spots on their Twitter and Instagram accounts. That was part of his thinking, Casspi said, that kids seeing their sports idols having fun in Israel would inspire them, too, to want to visit. (For more on that trip, see https://www.newyorker.com/news/sporting-scene/when-n-b-a-players-go-to-israel)
His mastery of basketball's subtleties - moving off the ball, setting screens, cutting to the rim - make him an ideal fit for head coach Steve Kerr's free-flowing system. "We love Omri," noted the coach after Golden State's 123-95 win over the Heat. "He's very professional. He never complains. Sometimes I don't play him; sometimes he plays 25 minutes. It doesn't matter; he's always ready. He's a great basketball player. He knows how to play; he's a wonderful cutter and passer. Klay (Thompson) said that tonight he brought out the 'Jerusalem package' to his game. I don't know what that is, but it was nice." When asked to explain the "Jerusalem package," Thompson replied: "Oh man, that's when Omri goes into his bag. Omri's actually from Tel Aviv but Jerusalem is probably the most famous city in Israel. I didn't know he had that crossover. He surprises me more and more with everything he does. I didn't know he had such a great touch at the start of the season, I didn't know he was such a good cutter, and I didn't know he had the handles he does (ball handling skills). I was excited to see what he did tonight. It really made me get on my feet when he had that crossover layup." Thompson added that, following a day of sun and relaxation on South Beach before that evening's game, he would love to sign up for Casspi's next NBA delegation to Israel. While undecided as to future trips, Casspi is committed for now to being the best ambassador for Israel - and the best teammate - that he can be.