Omri Casspi Responds to Swastika Graffiti on Kings Mural
Israel's first NBA player earned a starting role with the Sacramento Kings, then lost it. He hit the proverbial "rookie wall," then never truly found his way over it.
But all in all, it was something close to storybook.
Picked 23rd overall in the June 2009 draft, the 6-foot-9 small forward cried tears of joy inside his Yavne, Israel, home when commissioner David Stern spoke his name and enjoyed the season-long love fest that followed. He was a relative rock star in every city in which the Kings played, a point of pride for the respective Jewish communities that almost always showed up in force to wave the Israeli flag and chant "Casspi!"
Yet as Casspi spoke to FanHouse by phone from his home on Thursday -- on the celebration of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, no less -- there was no such joy in his voice as he discussed the first painful part of his experience. A swastika that had been painted on a mural of his face in midtown Sacramento was discovered on Wednesday, the act being deemed a hate crime by local authorities who are investigating the matter and looking for the moronic culprit.
"It's all over the news here," Casspi said. "I'm not shocked but I'm kind of hurt, you know. ... It's just crazy that it's 2010 and still there are people who are racist and who hate. That's the only thing that hurts and is a big shock."
Casspi, who played for the Israeli team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and spent his entire life in Israel until being drafted last year, said he had never been through anything even similar to this.
"In Israel, obviously there's not something like that," he said. "I've been in Sacramento and all over the NBA and never had anything close to that, never had anything racist happen. Everybody has treated me warm and kind and been unbelievably great to me. It's the first time for me to handle that kind of situation and I'm sorry I have to handle it at all."
Come Monday, though, he'll be far more focused on handling more welcome matters. That's when Casspi will return to Sacramento, where Kings head coach Paul Westphal has already declared the small forward spot up for grabs and Casspi is determined to earn it for good. He started 31 games in his rookie campaign, averaging 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in all while also taking part in the Rookie-Sophomore game at All-Star weekend.
But Westphal went away from Casspi late in the season, repeatedly citing the young player's slight frame and the fatigue factor as reasons for his decline while opting to use small forward Donte' Greene and veteran Andres Nocioni. This time, Casspi said, he plans on making it clear to Westphal and Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie who should be playing.
He has added considerable muscle, upping his weight from 208 pounds to "225 or 227 (pounds)" while getting a trial run at a more-prominent role while playing with his national team. In eight games with the Israeli team, Casspi averaged 16.9 points and 5.3 rebounds during the EuroBasket 2011 qualifying tournament, while enjoying what he called "my opportunity to lead, to really lead a team."
"I'm in great shape right now, and I'm going to show it to everybody," Casspi said. "I'm going to make sure that I'm going to be the starting small forward (for the Kings) during the season. I started 30-something games during the first season, and I want to make sure I'm going to be the only starter this year. ... I'm ready to show everyone that I'm the right guy, and show Geoff and Paul that I'm the right guy for that spot. Everybody will see it soon."
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