From Israel with Love

As a fan of my hometown San Antonio Spurs, I have been incredibly blessed to watch the team win 5 championships in 15 years and make the playoffs for 22 seasons in a row. So this year it was a bit odd to watch the NBA Draft and see my team pick a player in the lottery at number 11. The Spurs are used to finding overlooked gems late in the draft rather than the big stars, and this year I was hoping the team would get a chance to take a well-regarded Israeli prospect, Deni Avdija.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, as the 19 year old forward for Maccabi Tel Aviv was snapped up by the Washington Wizards with the 9th pick, two slots before the Spurs. The large and active DC area Jewish community will get to enjoy the native son on their team instead.

Avdija’s background is particularly interesting. His mother is a Jewish Israeli former track and field athlete, while his father is a Muslim Serbian-Israeli former basketball player. It’s easy to see where Avdija gets his athletic background. His father came to Israel to play professional basketball and stayed, something others have done as well.

Israeli professional teams, like their counterparts in Europe and America, are always on the lookout for international talent. Sometimes they bring over American college basketball stars who couldn’t break into the hyper competitive world of the NBA. Teams also import aging professional stars whose best days are behind them. Occasionally, these players fall in love with the country and make Israel their home.

One such example is Amar’e Stoudemire, a former NBA all-star who traced his lineage back to Jewish ancestors. After finishing his career playing for Israeli teams and becoming a citizen, he decided to further his exploration of Judaism and eventual converted. This coming season he will join his old friend and teammate Steve Nash as an assistant coach for the Brooklyn Nets.

Israel has a long history with the NBA, sometimes taking talent and sometimes giving it. Avdija will join Omri Caspi as Israelis taken in the first round, but over 55 years ago Israel was on the receiving end of NBA lottery-level talent from America. Trenton’s own Tal Brody was selected 12th overall in the draft by Baltimore Bullets, but decided instead to play professionally in Israel, reaching legendary status as he led teams to championships.

In history, what goes around comes around. In 1965 the Bullets lost out on the chance to add Brody’s point guard skills to their team. In 2020, their predecessor, the current Washington Wizards, get a bit of compensation as they bring in some fresh Israeli talent. Who knows, perhaps Avdija will create a legendary career of his own.

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