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Jewish community watches Omri return…and the Kings win

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Monday night’s contest was a game that the Kings should have won. And, they did.

The opening quarter was tight, until Thomas Robinson scored as the buzzer sounded. Still, the Cleveland Caveliers never led by more than four points, and the Kings never trailed after tying the score five minutes into the game.

The bench played a key role, as three starters (Jason Thompson, John Salmons, and Tyreke Evans) entered the second quarter in foul trouble.

From the bench, Robinson had one of his best games, shooting 60 percent, scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Jimmer Fredette was back in a groove of efficiency, scoring 16 points in 13 minutes. Marcus Thronton hit most of his field goal attempts, half of his three-point attempts, and tallied 20 points.

DeMarcus Cousins had, what some might say, a typical game. He led the Kings in scoring, rebounds, assists (tied with Isaiah Thomas), personal fouls, technical fouls, and flagrant fouls.

Don’t jump to conclusions. Big Cuz’s positive stats were because he is a great player. His negative stats were because he is under a microscope.

His “flagrant” foul seemed rather unflagrant. It was called when he swiped at a ball and, after hitting it, his arm continued around Tyler Zeller’s neck. It looked like Cousins pulled Zeller to the ground, but the truth is that Zeller had already lost his balance and Cousins tried to break his fall.

It was not revealed what Cousins might have said to earn his technical foul, but whatever it was, it was certainly brief, undemonstrative, and (judging from the way Cousins controlled himself throughout the game) probably nothing that referees wouldn’t tolerate from almost any other player.

The final score was 124 – 118.

Jewish community watches Omri return…and the Kings win

Jewish people excel in many areas. For example, no ethnic group has a higher percentage of Nobel Prize winners. A list of famous Jewish actors and comedians fills pages.

However, when Jews look with pride upon their famous athletes, they mostly have to look backward.

They have to go back to the 1960s to ’70s to find Mark Spitz or the 1950s to ’60s to find Sandy Koufax. (Actually, there is a recent resurgance of Jewish baseball players, including 2011 National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun.)

While there are accomplished Jewish basketball coaches, from Red Auerbach to Larry Brown, it has been a long time since Jews made an impact as basketball players.

It wasn’t always so. In the early days of the NBA, Jews were prominent. The early New York Knickerbockers were almost as Jewish then as they are African-American today.

“The First Basket” is an excellent movie about the history of Jews and basketball, and takes its title from what is considered the first score in NBA history, when Knickerbocker Ossie Schectman sank a shot against the Toronto Huskies in 1946.

“The First Basket” DVD is available to the public at the KOH Library and Cultural Center, at 2300 Sierra Blvd in Sacramento.

With this in mind, it is understandable that Jews all over the world were excited as the first Israeli basketball player to play in the NBA was drafted by the Sacramento Kings. Omri Casspi, who came to the Kings in 2009, was greeted by loud cheers and Israeli flags in virtually every city on the circuit.

When Casspi was traded to Cleveland in 2011, the Jewish community there embraced him with an intensity matched by the corresponding sadness among Sacramento’s Jews.

Monday night was Casspi’s first game at Sleep Train Arena in a Cavelier uniform. In addition to the Jewish fans who normally attend Kings games, about 150 Jews came specifically to see Casspi. He returned the favor with a “Meet and Greet” prior to the game.

Fans in that group talked about what it meant to them when Casspi was drafted.

Chris Beasley was “excited,” while his wife, Sharon, was “proud,” and their son, Jacob, thought “it was kind of cool. To know that there’s actually an NBA player that plays in Sacramento, that’s from Israel, it felt like something awesome. Not only people from different countries could play, but also from Israel.”

Carey Wolf “thought it was pretty cool. Since we’ve never had anybody from the state of Israel, the fact that Sacramento got the first one and we got to meet him through our community, it was very nice.”

David Long brought his whole family to the game.

“We thought it was great, because we were already Kings fans, and it was even cooler that it was a Jewish guy from Israel," Long said.

Harry and Jonathan Weinberg moved to Roseville from Florida about 4 1/2 years ago, switching allegiance from the Orlando Magic to the Kings. “It meant a lot, just to see someone from our own background.”

Lior feels that “For us, the Jewish community, we don’t have a lot of Jews here. When Omri came in, it motivated us to be more into basketball. He’s just such a good motivation, and it was really good having a new Jew in town.”

Nati is an Israeli who now lives in El Dorado Hills, and provides a unique perspective. When the Kings drafted Casspi, she was still living in Israel and observed that she and many Israelis immediately became Kings fans. Interestingly, she also said that when he was traded to Cleveland, her (and many of her friends’) allegiance remained with the Kings.

Caren Zorman lives in Sacramento and is president of the Mosaic Law Congregation Board. On Casspi becoming a King, Zorman commented, “It was a very special treat to have the first Israeli play for us in the NBA. It meant a lot for the community. He played well for us, sometimes, and it was a joy for us to watch him put on the purple and black. I came tonight to cheer on the Kings. It’s nice to see Omri, but he’s wearing the wrong colors.

Wrong colors? This brings us to the next question — a dilemma, really. What does a Kings fan who loves Omri Casspi want in the following scenario: “There’s three seconds left in the game. The Kings are up by one point. Omri has the ball and shoots. Do you hope he makes the shot or do you hope the Kings win?”

Zorman declared, “I want the Kings to win. [Omri] needs to be on the winning team, not us watching him win.”

Larry Bronstein remarked that “Omri was famous in the Jewish community, and we all miss him.” Still, the dilemma did not faze him for a moment, and he didn’t hesitate to assert, “I hope the Kings win!”

Josh Taff, a former Sacramento resident who describes himself as “a huge Kings fan,” traveled from Los Angeles specifically for Casspi’s homecoming game. Despite an affection strong enough to motivate all that traveling, he said “I hope the Kings win. I’m a Kings fan. I love Omri and I hope he gets ample time, but I will root for the Kings no matter what.” He added, “I root for them to stay in Sacramento, too.”

When posed with the buzzer-beater question, Harry and Jonathan Weinberg agreed “This is our home town, the Kings are our home team, and at the end of the day, [we] want the Kings to win the games.”

When the last-second shot dilemma was presented to the Long family, Dana and Max wanted Casspi to win the game, while David and Zach wanted the Kings to win.

The Wolf’s group was also divided. Carey and and his wife Nancy hoped Casspi would make the shot, while Stacy hoped he would miss it. Samuel wisely opined, “I hope [Omri] has a 30-point game…and [the Cavs} lose.”

If King Solomon were a Kings fan, he couldn’t have said it any better.

Jacob Beasley, though young and eager to support Casspi, looked to the future. He “would hope that [Casspi] misses to give the Kings a chance to actually stay in Sacramento instead of going to Seattle.”

Nati’s patriotic connection is strong. She confided, “I don’t want my son to hear it, but I want Omri to make that shot.”

Finally, Rabbi Taff of Mosaic law, was put on the spot. Kings fans might recall an Israeli flag that waved at Arco Arena whenever Casspi was the focus of attention. This flag was given by the Casspi family to Rabbi Taff in Israel prior to the newly drafted player’s arrival in Sacramento. That flag, by the way, was passed on to Cleveland’s Jewish community when Casspi was traded.

The rabbi gave a rabbinical response when asked his hopes should the game come down to a last second shot by Omri.

“For Omri, I just want success. He’s the first Israeli to play in the NBA. He’s had a little rough patch. I’d like to see him be fulfilled and find the success he deserves to have.”

The rabbi, who used to be a cantor and sang the national anthem before Monday’s game, implied that what his hopes for the hypothetical shot were irrelevant. With biblical certainty — and a wink in his eye — he declared that, if Omri takes that shot, “He makes it. That’s how optimistic I am. He makes it.”

It was Samuel who came closest to getting his wish. Omri did have a great game. In 11 minutes, he converted four of five field goal attempts, was perfect from the foul line, and pulled down four rebounds. Meanwhile, the Kings won. 

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