Local reaction to Sacramento Kings trade of Israeli star Omri Casspi

Israeli basketball star Omri Casspi admitted he doesn’t know much about Cleveland or its Jewish community, but the former Sacramento Kings standout said he’s looking forward to discovering what his new city and team have to offer.

“I hear there’s a very warm and welcoming Jewish community in Cleveland,” said Casspi, a 6-foot-9 forward from the Tel Aviv suburb of Yavne, who talked to the Cleveland Jewish News from his basketball camp at a JCC in the Los Angeles area.

The Kings traded Casspi and a conditional 2012 first-round draft pick to the Cavaliers on June 30 in exchange for forward J.J. Hickson.


        (For the original Cleveland Jewish News version of this article, CLICK HERE. And for the reaction of Jewish fans in Cleveland, CLICK HERE. The rest of the article below includes local reaction rounded up by j. staff writer Andy Altman-Ohr)

Cleveland’s gain will be Sacramento’s loss, said Rabbi Reuven Taff of Mosaic Law Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Sacramento.

“During Omri’s two years in Sacramento he inspired and instilled in our Jewish community an excitement and enthusiasm which people of all ages, basketball fans and non-fans enjoyed,” Taff wrote in an email. “His tenaciousness as a player emulated Israel’s success in showing the world that determination and hard work can result in great accomplishments in all areas of life.

“We will miss Omri very much. He endeared himself to our entire community and I hope that the Cleveland Jewish community will welcome him with open arms.”

Casspi, 23, said he has tentative plans to hook up with the Mandel JCC once he gets settled in the Cleveland area. He was involved in numerous Jewish programs while living in Sacramento, including community menorah lightings and events for the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region.

“Omri’s personal accomplishment as the first Israeli to play in the NBA was monumental for the entire global Jewish community, and obviously we in Sacramento felt great pride as we watched his career take shape,” Neil Soskin, the immediate past president of the Sacramento federation wrote in an email. “He was a wonderful ambassador, representing his home and the Jewish homeland with grace. He also was out in the community, exemplifying the diversity that we enjoy here.”

Last week, Casspi was processing the trade just as he was hurriedly getting ready to head home to Israel. There he was planning to train for the Euroleague championships scheduled for September. Casspi has no plans to visit Cleveland soon as the current NBA lockout effectively shuts down the league for the summer. Once labor negotiations are resolved, Casspi said he will think about finding a house in the area.

“I can’t really talk to the team now,” he said. “I’m just glad to know where I’m playing next year.”

Casspi averaged 8.6 points and 4.3 rebounds mostly coming off the bench for the Kings last season. A favorite of Jewish fans across the country, he started 27 games, but as his role on the Kings diminished, he expressed a desire to be traded. He averaged 24 minutes a game and grew disgruntled as his playing time went down.

The Cavaliers were in need of a small forward and Casspi will likely step right into the starting lineup.

“We’re excited to add a young, talented, tough-minded player like Omri, that we feel is a good fit for our team and can help improve our perimeter group, while also being able to obtain another important asset with the additional first-round draft pick,” Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant said in a statement.

Casspi was the first Israeli player to be drafted in the first round when Sacramento selected him 23rd overall in 2009. At age 17, Casspi signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the best basketball club in Israel and one of the top teams playing in the Euroleague.

During his first two seasons in the NBA, Casspi was greeted by fans waving Israeli flags in road games in Miami, Boston, Los Angeles and New York.

“The support of [American Jews] has been unbelievable,” said Casspi. “They cheered for me from Day 1.”

Akiva Tor, the consul general of Israel for the Pacific Northwest region, was one of those cheering the loudest. After all, even though he serves a wide area, his office is in Northern California (San Francisco).

“It was a total thrill having Omri in our region,” Tor noted. “He made my family and me into expert Kings fans. Now I’m torn because I grew up in Cleveland on the Cavs and Austin Carr. Omri may suffer from the Lake Erie winter, but the Cleveland Jewish community will give him the same abundant love he felt from the from the Jews of Sacramento. I wish him incredible scoring and much floor time at his new NBA home.”

A version of this article first appeared in the Cleveland Jewish News and is reprinted here by permission. AP photo by Ross D. Franklin.