U.S. Basketball Players Bring Goodwill to Israel

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TEL AVIV, Israel - Players from the National Basketball Association are known around the world, especially in Israel where basketball is a national sport. When some former pros came to visit the Holy Land, their presence attracted the attention of many Israelis.

Former NBA players, college stars and even a Harlem Globetrotter gave up their height advantage to play disabled Israeli veterans in a game of wheelchair basketball.

The game was just one stop on their goodwill tour sponsored by the Christian ministry Sports Power International. Ministry founder Bill Alexson served as chaplain for the Boston Celtics for more than 20 years.

It wasn't always easy for the NBA players to control their wheelchairs, but the game was good fun for both sides.

"A real dream to play with the big players that play in the NBA and you can see them all over the world," Israeli basketball player Barak said.

Calev Meyers helped organize the event.

"One of the great things about the NBA which is a little different than the other American sports is that they're very influential all over the world," Meyers said. "Israeli children watch the NBA. They all have their favorite team and so by having these evangelical Christians, who love Israel and basketball players come here and interact with the people through the sports camps and work with the disabled veteran association, it's wonderful."

For some of the Americans like Dwight Howard, Sr., father of NBA superstar Dwight Howard, this was a profound experience.

"This is one of the most exciting events I've had in my life and to be here to represent the U.S.A. and the Howard family I think it's just great," Howard said.

With Israel maligned in many places around the globe, Sports Power International came with a word of encouragement for Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israelis everywhere.

"I said at half time of our game, 'I could give you money, but I don't have any, I could give you weapons, you don't need any but what I do give you is the words of God through the prophet, fear not for the Lord God is with thee, be not dismayed for I am your God, I will help you, I will strengthen you for I will uphold you with My victorious right hand,'" Alexson said. 

The players may have arrived in Israel as visitors, but when they leave they say they will be ambassadors.

"When I'm at home in America, Israel isn't portrayed as what I've seen when I got here," said U.S. basketball player Darnell Lindsay. "When I get home, I'm going to tell everybody that Israel's a great place to be."

"To be able to walk the walk and experience the love of His chosen people in the manner that we've been able to experience -- it has made me for the rest of my life committed and a true partner of the nation of Israel and the Jewish people forever," said former NBA player Anthony Bonner.

Alexson, the players and the Israelis all hope for a return trip next year.

For the record, the Israelis won 24-20.

*Originally published September 22, 2010. 

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