Sacramento Jewish fans eagerly greet their new King

On the day of Omri Casspi’s welcome reception to the Sacramento Kings, the 6-foot, 9-inch forward looked more like a kid at his bar mitzvah party than someone about to become the first Israeli to play in the NBA.

As the emcee bellowed his name on Aug. 17, the 21-year-old Casspi entered the Kings’ practice facility in Sacramento to the sound of roars and applause from predominantly Jewish fans gathered to catch a glimpse of their new hometown hero.

Casspi then stepped up to the microphone and, speaking only for a few minutes, thanked those in attendance — prominent leaders from the Jewish community, several local rabbis and about two dozen kids clad in Kings T-shirts.

Omri Casspi of the Sacramento Kings pats Malcolm Brabec on the head as his parents, Susanne and Chuck Brabec, look on. photo/amanda pazornik

Skip Rosenbloom, board president of the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region, sat alongside Casspi, as did the Kings’ brass, including co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof. The federation helped the Kings organize the welcome event, sending out to an e-vite to many members of the community.

“The Jewish community is the warmest community,” said Casspi, who was wearing a business suit instead of his No. 18 Kings jersey. “The first season in the NBA is very hard, and I hope to see you in the stands.”

Then he posed for photo after photo with just about every one of the roughly 70 guests in attendance, each one taking home the image in a silver frame wrapped with a purple bow.

Among those lining up to shake hands with Casspi were California Senate Pro-tem Darrell Steinberg, Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor, Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn and Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools Dave Gordon.

“It’s a rare occasion to stand in a room full of Jews and we all agree on something,” Rosenbloom joked. “We are thrilled to welcome Omri to our community … I’m sure Jewish season ticket holders will increase.”

Flickering tea lights added a touch of softness to the Kings’ practice facility in Arco Arena. Guests leaned on or sat at tables cloaked in the Kings’ signature purple as they snacked on kosher appetizers during the event, which lasted about two hours.

“This is a very historic day for all of us,” Gavin Maloof said. “We are delighted to have the first Israeli NBA player. Since we drafted Omri, we’ve acquired 7.4 million new fans [the entire population of Israel]. Today is his day, and we are excited about the future of this organization.”

Selected 23rd overall in the NBA draft June 25, Casspi signed with the Kings last month and could make $3.26 million in his first three years, according to the NBA’s rookie salary scale.

His slashing offensive game helped Maccabi Tel Aviv win the Israeli Premier League title last season, when he averaged 12.6 points per game. But he did have a rough introduction to the U.S. style of play in the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas last month, averaging eight points (on poor 29.5 percent shooting) and a hefty 3.4 turnovers in five games.

Geoff Petrie, president of basketball operations for the Kings, doesn’t sound too concerned. “What you’ll see is a very determined, talented player who’s not just here to be on the roster,” he said. “I haven’t met too many young guys as committed to their goals as Omri.”

Though he isn’t the first Israeli taken in an NBA draft, all of the previous three got cut by their teams and never played in an NBA game. As a first-round pick with a guaranteed contract, Casspi is unlikely to get cut.

About a week after Sacramento drafted Casspi, Kings fans Chuck and Susanne Brabec were on a trip to Israel with their synagogue, Mosaic Law Congrega-tion, a Conservative shul in Sacramento. Along with their son Malcolm, the Brabecs met with Casspi’s family and presented them with some black and purple swag.

“We got off the plane and went straight to the Casspi residence,” Chuck Brabec said. “We brought Kings shirts and left them. After all, where will you get a Sacramento Kings shirt in Israel?”

As Casspi sifted through the lingering crowd to make his exit, he acknowledged the importance of having a strong fan base, especially during his first season.

 “That will make the difference,” Casspi said. “To see great people welcoming me warmed my heart.”