Fresh off a meal at Prime Deli on Sunday, Omri Casspi helped the Minnesota Timberwolves to a win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night at Target Center, in what the team billed as “Jewish Culture Night.”
Casspi, who is the first Israeli to play in the NBA, participated in a five-minute-long question-and-answer session with Jewish community members after the game. Rabbi Jeremy Fine of Temple of Aaron facilitated the session.
The estimated 50 to 75 fans who stayed for the Q&A cheered as Casspi came toward the group. “Bruchim haba’im l’Minnesota,” one fan said.
Casspi said he started playing basketball for his hometown team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, when he was 17. He called the 2009 NBA draft in which he was selected “one of the best drafts in years.”
“Blake Griffin was the first pick,” he said, referencing the All-Star forward for the Los Angeles Clippers. He also mentioned the Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio and Golden State Warriors star and two-time MVP Steph Curry as fellow 2009 draftees.
“It’s a great privilege, and Baruch Hashem, thank God,” he said.
Casspi keeps kosher and said he went to Prime Deli on Sunday night with his wife. He said he got into the game of basketball because his mom played and because his older brother did, too.
“They kind of pushed me to play the game. I was taller than the average Israeli, you can imagine,” said Casspi, who is 6-foot-9.
He said is proud of being Israeli and Jewish. When he’s on the road, he tries to do stuff in the community whenever he can, he said. He also started a foundation in 2013 that brings celebrities, NBA players and public figures to Israel to “show them my country and how beautiful it is.”
The goal, he said, is to hopefully create a group of ambassadors for Israel.
“It’s part of who I am,” he said of his heritage. “I’m enjoying it. It’s always been great. Everywhere I’ve been at … there are Israeli flags. Fans come and support me and my team. It’s a blessing.”
Casspi said his message to youngsters is that “the sky’s the limit.” He grew up as a kid in Israel when no Israelis were in the NBA. It took hours and hours of hard work and dedication, he said.
“It’s been about eight years now, so I’m blessed,” he said.
Casspi, 28, signed with the Timberwolves on March 20 after playing in 23 games with the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans this season. He has played parts of eight seasons in the NBA with Sacramento, Cleveland, Houston and New Orleans.
A native of Holon, Israel, Casspi played three seasons for Maccabi Tel Aviv before he was drafted in 2009. He has averaged 8.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 21.6 minutes in 486 career games in the NBA, making 138 starts.
Casspi is wearing the number 18 for the Timberwolves, a number he has worn during most of his NBA career. He wore the number 36 during his two years in Cleveland, he said, since another player had 18.