It was a late-season meeting between two disappointing teams, but for Jewish basketball fans, the final score was of secondary importance.
Omri Casspi, the first Israeli-born player in the NBA, made his Izod Center debut in Rutherford on March 24 as his Sacramento Kings fell to the host NJ Nets, 93-79, on Jewish Family Night.
According to Nets spokesman John Warnick, “We usually have three Jewish Family Nights, but this season we concentrated on this date because of Omri.” The event featured halftime entertainment by HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir, and Jewish celebrities in attendance included welterweight champion contender Dmitriy Salita and NBA legend and Basketball Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes.
The program was sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and Migdal Ohr, an organization that provides education and social guidance to children from underprivileged and troubled homes in Israel.
After a surprisingly strong first half of the season, the six-foot, nine-inch power forward from Yavne tailed off dramatically, unused to the rigors of the NBA schedule. In 69 games (as of this writing), he has averaged 10.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.3 assists, but in front of a crowd of 10,068, Casspi scored just two points, making one of eight shot attempts in 19 minutes off the bench.
The Kings 24-48 record is an improvement over last season, when they totaled 17 wins. That may seem pretty bad, until you consider that the Nets could set a record for most losses in a season. The victory over Casspi and Co. represented their eighth of the year; they needed two more in their final 11 games — no easy task based on past performance — to avoid tying the record of 9-73 established by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1972-73.
The Nets are obviously looking forward to next season. They have already announced an exhibition game against Maccabi Haifa of the Israeli Basketball Super League in October at the Prudential Center in Newark. The center will serve as the Nets’ home for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons before their move to Brooklyn.
Maccabi Haifa, owned by West Orange native Jeffrey Rosen, is currently tied for second place in the Super League and has been ranked as high as 21st in Europe.
“We are thrilled to bring Maccabi Haifa to America to play the Nets in a preseason game,” said Rosen in a statement announcing the game. “It has been our goal to build Maccabi Haifa into an international brand, and playing an NBA team such as the Nets is just another step in the right direction.”
Nets CEO Brett Yormark said, “We are honored to host Maccabi Haifa…and to offer our fans the chance to see one of the best teams in Israel and a team rich in history.”
Former NBC sports anchor Len Berman noted the Jewish Family Night program — and Nets win — on his website the following day. “Hmm. Maybe the Nets should consider wearing yarmulkes,” he wrote.