Halperin and Eliyahu 88.
(photo credit: FIBA Europe)
"It is a dream come true," Lior Eliyahu told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, after he became the second Israeli to be drafted by an NBA team.
Just minutes after Eliyahu was picked by the Orlando Magic at No. 44 of the 2006 NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden, Yotam Halperin made his own mark in the history books when his NBA rights were claimed by the Seattle Supersonics with the 53rd pick.
The Israelis were drafted 10 years after guard Doron Sheffer was selected 36th overall by the LA Clippers.
The rights to Eliyahu, a 20-year-old, 2.06-meter, 102.1-kilogram forward, were subsequently traded by Orlando to the Houston Rockets.
After being criticized in the Hebrew media for entering the draft at least a year prematurely, Eliyahu was happy with the decision he, his coach and his agent made.
"I was very excited sitting with my family watching the draft on [TV]," he said. "It was one of the most exciting moments in my life."
Although he said he was not promised before the draft to be picked by any team, Eliyahu did have a "good, 45-minute conversation" with the Rockets' general manager, Carroll Dawson, at the Treviso, Italy, Pre-Draft camp, which apparently has paid off.
Eliyahu will not become the first Israeli-born player in the NBA just yet. He has three months of army service remaining and will not be able to attend the Rockets' pre-season training camp until next year.
On Thursday, the numbers didn't interest Eliyahu. "It's not about being the first one or the second one, it is a dream for me to be in the league," he said.
One of Halperin's obstacles to claiming the distinction for himself may be his situation at Maccabi Tel Aviv. He has one year left on his contract, which includes a buyout clause for $500,000. However, according to the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players' union, the most money that the Sonics can directly pay for a buyout is $350,000. Halperin would have to pay $150,000 out of his own pocket.
Dave Pendergraft, Seattle's director of basketball operations, was enthusiastic regarding Halperin's NBA prospects. "The guy's 6-5 [1.96 meters]," he told the Sonics' Web site. "He's a combo guard. Unbelievable basketball IQ. Unbelievable. He's somebody who will probably stay in Europe for a year, maybe two. We would not have taken him if we did not think he had a chance to be an NBA player."
The Sonics hold the NBA rights to Halperin until they cut him, sign him or deal him.
Eliyahu, who has played at Hapoel Galil-Golan for the last three seasons, including the last two under Oded Katash, does not know yet where he will play next season, but does plan to represent Israel as a member of the national team this summer.
Since practice does not begin until mid-July, Eliyahu is relaxing, trying to take everything in and dishing out a few thank yous. "This is my dream," he said. "I have given everything for it, and I want to thank my parents and my family."