The State of Basketball in the State of Israel

Two of AGR’s members–thecornerthree (myself) and toughjuicepech0–recently made the trip to one of the holiest of all basketball grounds…Israel. While Rucker Park or Madison Square Garden may hold more weight as the holy land among the world’s ballers, Israel is pretty holy, and the people there sure do love their basketball.

At first, I thought this love for basketball was spawned by the recent success of Omri Casspi. After all, I didn’t know of other Israelis to have succeeded in the NBA, let alone Jews (for what it’s worth, Red Auerbach and Dolph Schayes were Jewish. And ironically, Dolph isn’t short for Randolph…that’s right, you guessed it, it’s short for Adolph. Weird). Casspi has developed a solid fanbase in the US and I figured that Israelis were jumping on the b-ball train with Casspi’s breakout rookie season. And indeed, Casspi’s success definitely explains part of the NBA fanbase in Israel–why else was I watching the replay of a December Kings-Timberwolves game in late June? (Casspi scored a game high 21 points, to my delight.)

Casspi, however, is merely a product of this basketball-crazed nation. Israel is 23rd in the latest FIBA rankings and is 12th in Europe (Israel plays against Europe rather than their proximal peers due to certain political disagreements. The same goes for Israel’s World Cup bid–they qualify along with Europe). Their current standing is actualy worse than what it once was–in the good old days for Israeli basketball, Israel finished second in the European basketball championships in 1979 and 5th in 1977. For a tiny nation whose men spend their athletic prime in the military for three years, Israel has been pretty darn good while playing among many of the world’s best teams–Mazel Tov!

Apart from learning about Israel’s basketball history, it was a series of epically nostalgic kippahs (kippot) that revealed to me the true NBA fandom in Israel. I realized Casspi and his fans merely represented a larger appreciation of the sport when I stumbled across these:

So there you have it. Apparently there is a market for retro-NBA kippot in Jerusalem. As much as I could stare (and wear) these kippot all day, there mere existence elicits a few questions that must be contemplated. Why are they selling such dated Kippot? Is it because they are trying to get rid of them, because they don’t know any better, or because they are aware of their nostalgic/retro allure? I’d have thought that they were inventory trying to make it off the shelf, but these bad boys were front and center in the kippah display, so obviously they mean something to someone. I’m guessing that the makers of these fantastically vintage-looking kippot knew exactly what they were doing and purposely produced them as such in order to make it on to obscure basketball blogs around the world. Looks like their plan worked. Good work, guys. You and your products are now internet celebrities in the NBA blogosphere. If only we had found the elusive Washington Bullets kippah. Maybe we’ll be treated to that when the Wizards trade for Casspi (keeping my fingers crossed!).

What do you think about basketball in Israel? Comment on the article or e-mail us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail (dot) com. Don’t forget to follow @AGRbasketball on Twitter and to like us on Facebook.

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