May 30, 2010 | 1:03 am
Posted by Jeremy Fine
Before there was Omri Casspi there was a man by the name of Tal Brody. Brody was a sensational player for my Alma Mater, The University of Illinois. Brody was drafted into the NBA but a trans-formative experience at the Maccabi games changed his future and Israeli basketball forever. He lead Israeli to its first European title and Israeli basketball has been on the map ever since. TGR had the fortune to speak with Brody during my last few days in Israel. What better way to leave this amazing country and experience than with an interview for arguably the greatest Israeli basketball player ever.
1) You played at the University of Illinois, how was that experience and do you still follow the team?
I follow the Illini. About 10 years ago I was invited back because I was elected I Man of the Year. At first I thought they had the wrong guy. Once I reached campus I remembered how cold Champaign can get. But it was very nice. They were playing Wisconsin and I got to be the honorary coach for the day and sat next to Lou Henson. I really enjoyed it.
Playing there was great too. We had good teams. I replaced Jerry Calangelo who graduated. I was a sophomore at the time. Back then freshman were not allowed to play varsity. We were ranked #3 in the nation. We won the holiday festival in New York where we beat Adolph Rupp’s team. Unfortunately, we were knocked out of the tournament by Bowling Green. We were also the first team ever to play in Assembly Hall.
2) What was it like getting drafted to the NBA?
At the time getting drafted 12th out of 65 was a big deal. Jerry Sloan went in like the 4th round because there were only 9 teams. Unfortunately, the Baltimore Bullets were loaded with guards. After rookie camp everything was fine. I was asked to play in the Maccabi games and I needed to get the Bullets’ permission. They let me go and once I got there everything changed. Growing up in Trenton, Israel opened up my eyes. I fell in love with the culture and every day life. Israel gave me a challenge to take Israeli basketball to the next level. NBA players were not getting paid all too much in those. It was not until David Stern took over that there were huge contracts. So my decision wasn’t a financial thing. It was the challenge that brought me to Israel. I told the Bullets that if I did not receive a no-cut contract I would be staying in Israel. So I came and even got a masters degree. It was a bigger challenge to help a country rather than one team.
3) What was it like winning the European Championship?
It was a dream come true. It was the reason I came to Israel, to take Israeli basketball to the next level. It meant a lot to the country. We got passed the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd rounds and had to play in Spain where we lost by 32 the first time around. This time we won by 32. Moshe Dayan started attending comes. It was a big deal. After my second year I got drafted to the US Army. After that I became a new citizen of Israel. Soon thereafter Mark Spitz and I participated in the Maccabi games. We won the gold in basketball.
4) How do you feel about what Omri Casspi has accomplished?
I think he has been the first Israeli to really achieve a success in the NBA. Doing what he did as a rookie, brought so much honor to Israeli basketball. I was at the NBA All Star game in Dallasand sat in a box. I saw him play in the rookie game and it was truly amazing. He did a great job and I felt proud of him especially in his first year. It was fantastic for world Jewry. At the game in New York they played Hatikva. Everywhere he goes fans have been coming out and cheering him on.
5) Any other Israelis to watch out for?
It is hard to say at this point. Young players should come along. Our players are all over Europe. Also the Israeli league is good and producing better players. Our biggest problem is that we do not have an abundance of tall players.
6) What are you doing these days?
I am in the 3rd stage of life. I sold my business and began working for the country. I am doing this on my own until something official comes out. I lecture the world about whats going on in Israel and on holidays. I search for friends abroad. Also, I help Children of Risk with Natan Sharansky. Basically I talks about using technology and reach out to friends all over the world. I hope that college age Jews and even non-Jews are not getting their information from anti-Israel proporganda. I am trying to combat that. I post on Youtube, Canadian TV, etc. Here is a segment you should check out by Dr. Jaques Gautier who argues that Jerusalem is 100% legalized for Israel. I have asked the Israel project to validate it. http://ctstv.com/ontario/player.php?ctsvidID=17133&show=On
I have also helped and continue to help 100,000 boys and girls play basketball everyday. Its a program called the Spirit of Israel where I am the chairman. It is in Hertzaliyah. It won a European prize for helping children.
7) Most importantly where is your favorite falafel stand?
This little place in Hertzaliyah on Sokolv. When I played for Maccabi there was another place near the old basketball court called Shuk Bazalel but I am not sure if it is still there.
And Let Us Say…Amen.
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