NBA legends Dr. J and Rick Barry meet Peres

The two giants visit Beit Hanassi to celebrate Migdal Ohr's work with wayward youth.

peres erving 88 (photo credit: )
peres erving 88
(photo credit: )
Senior Beit Hanassi staffers might become blasé about meeting some of the world's most famous people several times a week, but not when it comes to NBA Hall of Fame heroes Rick Barry and Julius "Dr. J" Erving. The two giants, along with the Migdal Ohr Youth Village basketball team and Migdal Ohr officials and supporters, visited Beit Hanassi on Wednesday to meet with President Shimon Peres and present him with two basketballs signed by Barry and Erving and all the Migdal Ohr players, including captain David Mihavev. One of the reasons for their visit to Israel was to create greater awareness about Migdal Ohr, which caters to 6,000 youngsters, and the work of its founder, Israel Prize laureate Rabbi Yitzhok Dovid Grossman, who for close to 40 years has worked to give impoverished and wayward youth a fresh start in life. No sooner did Barry and Erving enter the reception area than they were pounced on by the president's military aide, Brig.-Gen. Shimon Hefetz, and long-time political and media adviser Yoram Dori, both of whom are keen basketball fans. Standing like two kids with their eyes bulging, Hefetz and Dori discussed the previous night's match between the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs. Hefetz, when serving as a military attaché at Israel's embassy in Washington, had seen Erving in action on several occasions, and was somewhat dazed at having finally met him. "He was a dream player," Hefetz told The Jerusalem Post. "He was phenomenal." Barry was one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. He is the only player ever to lead the collegiate NCAA, NBA and ABA in scoring. Three of his sons, Jon, Brent and Drew, have also played in the NBA. Brent plays for the Spurs, which lost out to the Lakers by two points, with Brent scoring 23 of the Spurs's 91 points. Erving won an NBA title and a Most Valuable Player award with the Philadelphia 76ers, as well as two American Basketball Association championships. Migdal Ohr Executive Vice President Robert Katz, a former NBC and CBS sportscaster, said the NBA legends had been brought to Israel to give clinics in goodwill basketball and sports to more than a thousand youngsters in different parts of the country. Barry, in Israel for the first time, said that it was a privilege to meet two such distinguished personalities as Peres and Grossman. Of all his experiences in Israel, he said, his visit to Jerusalem's old city "where Christ had walked" was the most moving, primarily because people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds appeared to be getting along in the marketplace. Erving said that he had always had a strong affinity with the Jewish people. In 1968, during his freshman year at the University of Massachusetts, he was under the radar. In his second year, he became one of the nation's biggest scorers and rebounders and the sports media came from all over to check him out. "Where's the Jewish kid on the team?" they asked. "What Jewish kid?" was the rejoinder. "That guy Erving." He's been dubbed a "Jewish kid" ever since he was 19, said Dr. J. Israel, he said, was an inspiration to Jews in America as well as to many minorities in America and around the world. Praising the "wonderful environment" of Migdal Ohr, Erving said the youth village had left a great impression and that he and Barry were pleased to have played a small role in its eandeavors. Peres told his guests that he admired them "not because of your sport but because of your spirit. You are towering people in what you represent, not where you played." The president added that he had found sports figures to be the best educators towards friendship and equality. "If we built sports organizations rather than political organizations the whole world would be better," he declared. Barry and Erving were also in Israel to join in the salute to former Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball coach Ralph Klein. "When Tal Brody asked us, we couldn't refuse," said Barry. "When fans do something like that for a coach, it's extraordinary."