NBA full-court press at Beit Hanassi

AIPAC brings basketball players to meet an excited president Peres; "This is like a dream come true. I'm crazy about NBA and basketball," says veteran aide to president.

NBA (photo credit: Aviad Weizman)
(photo credit: Aviad Weizman)
There has been no dearth of dignitaries and celebrities at Beit Hanassi, but over the past decade none, with the possible exception of George W. Bush, have generated as much inhouse interest and excitement as the ten past and present NBA players who under the auspices of AIPAC, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, were part of a 23 member delegation who came to Beit Hanassi on Wednesday to meet with President Shimon Peres.
Why was it so important for AIPAC to bring NBA players to Israel? “To educate them about the issues facing Israel and the US-Israel relationship, and because they are influential with the American public,” explained Wendy Singer the director of AIPAC’S Jerusalem office.
“This is like a dream come true. I’m crazy about NBA and basketball,” said veteran Peres aide Yoram Dori, as he posed for photos with the players.
Even Yosef Avi Yair Engel, the president’s personal photographer and director of special operations, momentarily put down his camera to position himself between two hoopsters while someone else caught the image for posterity.
Other staff members also rushed to stand alongside the stars, while bevy of photographers clicked away at a furious pace.
Israel’s past and present basketball luminaries were represented by Tal Brody, who has played for both the US and the Israel national teams, and who in 1979 was the first sportsman to receive the Israel Prize; and Omri Casspi, who was the first Israeli to play in the NBA, and who is also a member of the Israel National Team.
For Brody, who had a great time chatting to the NBA players, this was about as good a birthday present as he could get.
He turned 67 on August 30.
Allan Houston of the New York Knicks, who happens to be a personal friend of US President Barack Obama, and who raised money for Obama’s election campaign told Peres how honored the players were to be in his home. It was his second time in Israel he said, and he had been glad to have the opportunity to watch Casspi play during his visit here.
“We’re here to stand in support of Israel,” said Houston, who also referred to the Washington peace summit, saying that it was an historic day.
“We’re going to pray for Israel,” he pledged.
Peres who was dwarfed – at least physically – by his guests, told them that they were not only at the top of the world of sport, but also with regard to human values.
Putting sport and goodwill in one basket, Peres, referring to Casspi, said: “We’re proud that we have someone who has reached your heights.”
A basketball autographed by all the players was presented to Peres by Bill Alexson the founder and president of Sports Power International who told him: “You can’t play with it. You have to place it in an appropriate place in your living room.”
To which Peres responded: “I can’t play if I don’t have a team.”
The ball was quickly hijacked by Peres’s aides who spun it around in short passes to each other.
Chris Wallace of the Memphis Grizzlies presented Peres with an official game jersey, saying: “We need a real leader to get to the playoffs.”
The players, though towering over Peres, were obviously impressed with him.
“He came across very authentic,” said retired player Paul Grant who used to play for the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves.