3-time NBA all-star Allan Houston shoots hoops with kids in Sderot

Former New York Knick aims to use trip to take youngsters' minds off the rockets.

Allan Houston in sderot 248.88 (photo credit: Jonah Newman)
Allan Houston in sderot 248.88
(photo credit: Jonah Newman)
Chen Kabasa has a pair of New York Knicks shorts. He even went to a Knicks game last Passover. But for some reason, unclear even to him, when the 17-year-old Sderot resident left his house Thursday to meet former Knicks star Allan Houston, he put on his LA Lakers shorts instead. Houston, who held a basketball clinic in Sderot on Thursday with about 20 kids from southern Israel, didn't seem to care about the disloyalty. He was all business, determined in his task of teaching the young Israelis the fundamentals of shooting a basketball and to encourage them to follow their dreams to play in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem - or maybe even in the NBA like new Sacramento Kings recruit Omri Casspi. "Hopefully something like this inspires them and creates some joy for the moment," he told The Jerusalem Post while taking a break from the training session. A three-time NBA all-star and Olympic gold medal winner, Houston played for Cthree years with the Detroit Pistons before moving to the Knicks as a free agent in 1996. In his nine seasons with the team, he helped take it to the playoffs six times. His career is best remembered, perhaps, for a gamewinning shot in the last seconds of Game 5 of the 1999 Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Miami Heat, eventually leading the team to advance to that year's Finals. Houston, 38, who now works as an assistant to the Knicks' President of Basketball Operations, is in Israel for a week with his wife Tamara on a mission of civic leaders sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. In addition to meeting with politicians, journalists, and community leaders, Houston had two basketball clinics on his schedule - one in Sderot and another on Sunday in the Arab town of Iksal in the north. A devout Christian, Houston said he feels this trip has given him a greater understanding of the Bible, which he said has "leaped off the pages for him," and a better grasp of the significance of Israel for Jews. In 2001, Houston was criticized by the Anti-Defamation League for comments he made during a team prayer meeting about Jews persecuting Jesus, which were quoted in a New York Times magazine article, and which he said were taken out of context. " The thing that really sticks out to me most on this trip is the Jewish identity and how the Jewish people have held on throughout the years to their faith, their hope, and their identity," Houston told the Post. While he said it will take him time to fully appreciate everything he has experienced in Israel, he has made an effort to capture the people and sights around him through recordings on his video camera and posts to Twitter from his iPhone. "Man this Israel trip is serious. Now leaving Ashkelon where we visited Barzilai Hospital where patients are treated from rocket attacks," he tweeted on Thursday morning, before heading to Sderot. Houston was visibly impacted by the words of Shalom HaLevy, a representative of the Sderot municipality who spoke to the group over lunch about life in the shadow of rockets from Gaza. "It's hard for me to picture having the experience of waking up and not even knowing when I'm gonna have 15 seconds to run for my life," Houston said. He said he hoped the basketball clinic would help the kids, who came not only from Sderot but also Beersheba, Kiryat Gat, Gadera, Ofakim, and some of the kibbutzim in the area, to forget about the political situation for a while and to focus on basketball. "I would imagine that if this were somebody's reality every day, that this [clinic] would be something that would take them away from it for a moment," he said. "Just to see them laugh, to me, to see their minds off of that for an hour, gives me hope that maybe they will remember it." Both Houston and the kids spent a lot of time laughing. At one point, after finishing a drill on shooting, Houston stepped to the three-point line and asked the kids how many baskets they thought he could make in a row. "Three!" "Four!" "Ten!" the audience shouted. He made sixteen, and the group erupted in applause and smiles after he missed the seventeenth. "I won't even tell you what my record is," Houston said to them. Before leaving, Houston and the JCRC presented coach Yisrael Baruch with two new NBA regulation basketballs. In return, Houston received a red and white Maccabi Sderot jersey, which he said he plans to hang up when he gets home. But in the end, the kids may have gotten the most out of the afternoon. "I'm leaving here with a big smile and a lot of good basketball tips," Kabesa said. "And an autograph and a picture," he added.