Israeli Golden State Warriors player Omri Casspi joins S.F. Chabad Rabbi Yosef Langer to light the menorah after the Warriors beat Dallas on the team's annual Jewish Heritage Night, Dec. 14, 2017 (Photo/Courtesy Golden State Warriors)
Israeli Golden State Warriors player Omri Casspi joins S.F. Chabad Rabbi Yosef Langer to light the menorah after the Warriors beat Dallas on the team's annual Jewish Heritage Night, Dec. 14, 2017 (Photo/Courtesy Golden State Warriors)

Led by Omri Casspi, Warriors beat Dallas and light the menorah

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Omri Casspi helped lead the Golden State Warriors to their eighth straight win last night, and he celebrated by lighting a giant menorah with hundreds of his fellow Bay Area Jews.

Casspi, an Israeli in his first season with the Warriors, scored 17 points and had 11 rebounds in the 112-97 win Dec. 14 against the Dallas Mavericks. One of the best performances of his nine-year NBA career came on the Warriors’ Jewish Heritage Night and the third night of Hanukkah.

Danny Grossman, CEO of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, was at the game along with other community and spiritual leaders, and said it was appropriate that Casspi had his best night since joining the Warriors in July on a one-year deal.

“It can’t be coincidental, it had to be a Hanukkah miracle,” said Grossman, who was wearing a Warriors cap. The crowd attending the post-game menorah lighting ranged from those wearing yarmulkes and black hats to those in Warriors garb.

After the game, Casspi turned a bulb to help light a menorah almost as tall as the 6-foot-9 forward. He then sang the Hanukkah prayers with Rabbi Yosef Langer, executive director of Chabad of San Francisco, as hundreds of Jewish fans — some attending their first Warriors game — watched from the Oracle Arena seats.

Among those watching with pride was Shlomi Kofman, Israel’s consul general in San Francisco, who sent out congratulatory tweets to Casspi during the game. Kofman said Jewish Heritage Night shows that “Israel is part of the community,” and that Casspi’s performance was an added bonus.

“We can be proud to have a player on the best basketball team in the country,” he said. “We are not only a high-tech nation, but a country where sport is in our spirit.”

Casspi, 29, has played for six NBA teams, including five seasons in two stints with the Sacramento Kings. Last season, he shuttled from Sacramento to New Orleans to Minnesota. He said the transition to the Bay Area has been easy, and he and his wife attend Chabad services near their home.

With perennial all-stars Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant and two NBA championships in the last three years, Casspi said the Warriors were the favorite team of most Israelis even before he arrived.

“It’s like the Beatles, it’s the rock star team,” he told J. after the Warriors’ shoot-around at their practice facility the morning of the Dallas game.

That has made things very busy for Casspi, who takes seriously his role as a model for young Israelis as well as for American Jewish kids.

“There’s a lot of bar mitzvahs, people who come to the games from Israel to celebrate their bar mitzvah,” he said “It’s hard to have time to meet everyone.”

Lighting the menorah on the Warriors’ court, Casspi said, was a “privilege, it just means the world to me.” It was the culmination of a night on which several local Jews were honored.

Piedmont resident Arthur Weil, 92, who speaks to Bay Area students about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, was presented at halftime with the Walmart Community Playmaker Award, while Jordan Feinstein, lead singer of the San Francisco band Jordan and the Ritual, sang the national anthem. Kids from the San Francisco JCC scrimmaged on the court during halftime.

For Casspi, whose 17 points were his most in a game since the 2015-16 season, the big night — which also included two assists and two blocked shots in his sixth start of the season — couldn’t have come at a better time.

Casspi is hosting family members for Hanukkah, including his older brother, Eitan, who came from his home in Tel Aviv. Eitan and Omri shot free throws at the morning shoot-around long after most of Casspi’s teammates had already headed for the locker room.

“My family is in town, always for Hanukkah. So it’s always fun to have family around,” Casspi said of the third night of the holiday and his big night for the Warriors, which included a rare on-court post-game TV interview. “We’re having a good time, playing basketball and living the dream.”

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster z"l was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.