Christian NBA players pay solidarity visit to Israel

Players conduct clinics, put on exhibition games and meet with dignitaries to express their support for the Jewish state.

NBA players in Israel 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
NBA players in Israel 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Ten past and present NBA basketball players belonging to the Christian athletic foundation SportsPower International recently came on a week-long pilgrimage and solidarity visit to Israel, conducting clinics, putting on exhibition games and meeting with dignitaries to express their support for the Jewish state.
The tour was organized by Bill Alexson, a former pro player and the long-time chaplain of the Boston Celtic who founded SportsPower. The group also featured former New York Knicks Allan Houston and Anthony Bonner, former Toronto Raptor Jerome Williams, former San Antonio Spurs forward David Wood, ball-whiz Charles Smith of the Harlem Globetrotters, as well as Dwight Howard, Sr., father of one the NBA’s current top stars.
The 23-member delegation was hosted by President Shimon Peres at his official residence Beit Hanassi in Jerusalem – a visit arranged by AIPAC, which sponsored the tour in order to strengthen American- Israeli relations by introducing leading American sports figures to Israel and its unique challenges.
“We’re here to stand in support of Israel,” Houston, the former Knicks sharpshooter, told Peres. “We’re going to pray for Israel.”
The group was joined by former Israeli standout Tal Brody, who has played for both the American and Israeli national teams, and Omri Casspi, who last year became the first Israeli to play in the NBA, with the Sacramento Kings. Peres aide Yoram Dori gushed: “This is like a dream come true. I’m crazy about NBA and basketball.”
The players also were a big hit with youths from basketball leagues in the Jerusalem area, as the NBAers dazzled them with trick passes and alley-oop dunks at a skills clinic. “We’re here to stand with Israel in all that you do,” Alexson told the enthusiastic young hoopsters.
The team also played a friendly game in Herzilya against Bnei HaSharon of the Israeli national league. Seated on the team bench as an honorary member was Ami Ortiz, the 16-year-old aspiring Israeli basketball player who was seriously injured when his Messianic Jewish family was targeted in a rigged Purim basket bombing in March 2008. “Ami was in heaven,” said his mother Leah Ortiz.
The NBAers also played a benefit game against the all-stars of the Israeli wheelchair basketball league, which downed the pros by a score of 21 to 17.