Ex NBA star Ray Allen promotes understanding through sports in Jerusalem

When asked what was the best aspect about visiting Israel, Allen said that he doesn’t have a favorite. “Everything was equally impressive. I don’t compare because comparison is the thief of joy."

 NBA legend Ray Allen attends the Peace Players Middle East initiative at the YMCA. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
NBA legend Ray Allen attends the Peace Players Middle East initiative at the YMCA.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Former NBA basketball star Ray Allen visited the PeacePlayers Initiative at the YMCA in Jerusalem on Sunday for a friendly basketball game with young Israelis and Palestinians.

The event was held to promote understanding and friendship between young Israeli and Palestinian athletes. Children who participated were from Jewish, Muslim and Christian backgrounds. The event was hosted by America’s Voices in Israel together with the Arison Family Foundation and PeacePlayers.

Allen was accompanied by Scott Burrell for the event, another former NBA player who played for the Chicago Bulls, New Jersey Nets and Charlotte Hornets.

Allen is most notable for the 18 seasons he played shooting guard on teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat between 1996 and 2014. He is considered one of the greatest three-point shooters in NBA history. On his very first trip in Israel, Allen also visited cultural and historical sites in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Galilee.

“I’ve always wanted to come to Israel,” Allen told The Jerusalem Post. “What I heard over time is that Israel is a really great basketball country,” he added, referring to the large number of Israelis who actively follow the NBA.

 NBA legend Ray Allen attends the Peace Players Middle East initiative at the YMCA. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) NBA legend Ray Allen attends the Peace Players Middle East initiative at the YMCA. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

“There’s something fascinating, the idea of being here – just being connected to the Holy Land,” Allen said. “I’ve heard it several times this week – people ask me why I’m here, as if only Jewish people travel to Israel.

“It’s an incredible country. It has some of the best food that I’ve had in a while and I’ve connected with some very kind people. Not to mention between Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Nazareth – the cities that I’ve been to, I think that everyone should travel to and learn.

“We can talk about American or Middle Eastern history, but the history of the world moves through Israel. We can talk about religion, but it doesn’t really have much to do with religion. It has everything to do with people.”

When asked what was the best aspect about visiting Israel, Allen said that he doesn’t have a favorite. “Everything was equally impressive. I don’t compare because comparison is the thief of joy.”

Allen spoke about his positions in the past to promote Holocaust education, and his hopes to “spread awareness and help people fight against antisemitism, hate and racism.”

When asked about the event with PeacePlayers, Allen told the Post that “there’s a common bond you can share with someone through basketball, regardless of what language you speak.

“The sport teaches people that you shouldn’t worry about where you come from as much. What’s important is who you are in the moment and where you hope to go. It gets you to open up and want to get to know the person you’re playing alongside. You learn to build a bridge, not a wall. You create a better society because the sport binds you.”

Upon meeting the children and teenage girls that were participating in the event, Allen gave them a motivational speech about his experiences growing up and his relationship with basketball.

There were also two girls that translated his speech to Hebrew and Arabic respectively so that all the kids could understand. When Allen asked the group who aspires to be a professional basketball player, many of the girls in the group raised their hands.

Before Allen spoke, Karen Doubilet, executive director of PeacePlayers, noted the uniqueness of the team of basketball players that Allen was visiting. It is the “only mixed Arab-Jewish club comprised of young girls from both east and west Jerusalem and compete as one team.” Doubilet also noted that the club also won a few championships in their league.

Allen took part in basketball activities, where the other participants were honing their techniques. One activity included a challenge where the participants tried to shoot a basket while Allen defended against them.

“These players, this club does an amazing job bringing people together,” said Jason Arison, who co-founded the event with his brother David as part of the Arison Family Foundation.

“It’s through basketball, something very simple. And when you have someone like Ray Allen here in Israel, I think he’s the best person to bring to speak about hard work, dedication and perseverance. I think it’s just a great opportunity for these kids to meet someone who has accomplished so much and who has set many ambitious goals.”

Irwin Katsof, director of America’s Voices of Israel, said that they “plan to do more of these events in the future.”

“Our goal is to make people understand that Israel is not a soundbite. It’s through the looking-glass, really. It takes being here and meeting people to understand the situation,” Katsof said. “And that’s our hope by bringing someone like Ray. He’s a spokesman, he’s someone who people look up to. With him being here, he’s able to speak more than just from a soundbite’s perspective.”