Former NBA great Spencer Haywood and fans celebrate at the opening ceremonies of the Friendship Games.
The Second Annual Friendship Games offers college students from 17 different countries the opportunity to compete in a round-robin style basketball tournament with each team playing five games each. Thirty college teams from 17 different countries including Russia, China, Serbia, Jordan, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Turkey, Palestine, Ukraine, Cyprus, Slovenia and Israel are represented.
Students will also tour Jerusalem, The Dead Sea, Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, Tiberias and Tel-Aviv-Jaffa. The event tipped off June 1-2 with a coaching clinic led by Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Herb Brown of the NBA.
We got up in the morning and flew to Jordan – a nice flight of about 31 minutes – where we all expected high security since we had all of these Israelis and Americans going into the country. When we got there, we were thoroughly surprised that there was not that much security. Because of the Freedom Games, everything was just laid back. Everybody just dropped that war-like mentality and it was so beautiful. We went to visit the ruins and a number of other places, even where Moses once stood. That was a beautiful experience. Coach Herb Brown did his coaches’ clinic and then after that I came back and did my own clinic and answered questions about the NBA. Everyone wanted to talk to me at length about the playoffs. I told them why I picked Cleveland. Everyone was like, “You’re crazy, why did you pick Cleveland?” I had no real reasons. I was just saying that I wanted them to win.
Coach Brown’s Clinic
All of these countries are now enthralled with the idea of developing their coaching staffs, so they bring in coaches from all over the country and all over the region. We did stuff with the children, but we also did two major camps, one in Tel Aviv and one in Jordan. This is just for all of the Israeli coaches in Israel and we did one in Jordan for those people who are from the Arab continent. It’s a whole learning process for them as to how they’re going to teach the new athletes.
Coach was showing them different ways of how to run an offense. We had about 100 coaches there, men and women, who are all fairly new to coaching. We had to start with the basics. He took them step-by-step through how to run the pick and roll, how to confront a zone or a zone press from end-to-end, what would break it open and how to break it open, and how to never try to dribble through the zone, but to pass through the zone. He taught them little things like that that are basic fundamentals.
The NBA – An International Bonanza
Former NBA great Spencer Haywood shows off his championship ring as Arie Rosenzwieg looks on.
Herb was encouraging them and saying that one of the nice things about the camp after having done several in the Balkan states and other areas was seeing how many players are now in the NBA from the area. Eventually we’re going to see some players from the Middle East region start to come in. When we were in Jordan, I saw the Jordanian team. They had some big players who looked like they had talent. And the Israelis are really talented. I just think that the league is expanding at such a pace from an international perspective. Look at the Finals right now. It is an international bonanza for the NBA. Everybody can now identify with Cleveland because they have three international players on the team playing major roles. Then you have San Antonio where it seems like the whole team is international.
The Clinic That I Gave
During the clinic that I ran, I showed them things that I learned as a young player. I did ballet dancing up and down the floor on my toes. Too bad they picked Clyde Drexler for Dancing With The Stars because I could have represented the NBA well. Herb and all of the coaches were really amazed that I could do it. Then I did some tap dancing for 10 minutes to show them the foot movement needed as a player. You have to have all of this movement in order to get open. Then I showed them basic steps of movement, you know, like one step forward, one step back. Then I showed them all of the different moves from the low post position. I explained that a low post position is not just for big men, it’s for any time you want to take advantage of a strong player, like a Baron Davis or a Kobe Bryant. They all need to have a post-up game. Guards need to have a post-up game as well as big men. This is very important. That went over well with both Israelis and Jordanians because of the fact that they want to change up their offense. In the European style of play, sometimes you see the guards on the blocks and the big guys out shooting the threes.
What Impressed Me The Most
The peace between everyone was impressive. More so than that, though, was how much history and how much wonderful stuff is going on that I was unaware of despite my having been here before. I went on a special tour that took us to the Dead Sea, throughout Jerusalem, through all of the churches and on walks that Jesus and all the great prophets walked. Then just knowing the Talmud a little better and knowing the Koran better, and knowing that all of it came together right there including the Coptic Christians from Ethiopia as well as the Greek Orthodox church, all of this was housed in one building in Jerusalem. It was truly special.
Then of course the players and especially the Lebanese players and how they partied so well with others. It seemed like they were brothers and sisters with the Israelis. That was so beautiful to see. I was also able to meet with Shimon Peres, who is in the running to be the next president after years of public service. If he is elected, I am going to go back for his election inaugural. I felt a kinship there. I also got a chance to see what Israel has done for the Ethiopians and how they rescued them out of the desert and brought them into Israel. To see what they have done with those people and how they have integrated them into the armed forces and into normal society without any hesitation, it was just a blessing to see and a blessing that this country stepped up.
Hawks Co-Owner Ed Peskowitz: A Wonderful Man
What a yeomen’s job he has done. He financed everything with all of the students coming in from different places, fed them so properly and housed them greatly. What a great man and a wonderful human being. I spent all of my time here with him, his wife and his children. We stayed on the same floor, rode in the same car, and did everything together.
Plans To Return To The Friendship Games
I am going to do this camp every year and I am going to make maybe two or three trips to Israel every year. I talked with my daughter who I mentioned previously is a very good player in the state of Michigan. She wants to play in a game over the next year, so I am probably going to speak to Bill Davidson. He has the Davidson Center in Israel as well and he is the big sponsor. I am going to speak with some sponsors and put together a team since we were the only place that wasn’t represented.
Sam Schulman, You’re Never Forgotten
Being at the camp took me back to the days of former Sonics president Sam Schulman when I was in Seattle when he was telling me about Israeli loyalty and Jewish loyalty. I remember him standing by me all the way through to the Supreme Court and I saw it all come to realization again when I was there in Israel. I shed a tear for the late Sam Schulman of the Seattle SuperSonics because I could see it and I could feel it.
Spencer Haywood was joined by former University of Georgia star and Maccabi Tel Aviv legend LaVon Mercer, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Hawks assistant Herb Brown.
I'm writing to you all from Israel after having traveled here to take part in the second annual Friendship Games. It's actually a pretty funny story how I ended up here. I was actually driving from Detroit to Cleveland for the Cavs-Pistons game when I got a call asking if I could go to Israel. Even though I was almost to Cleveland, I said yes. What a great opportunity. It didn't matter that I had been here three times. Back in the day, my wife at the time, Iman, was from Somalia, so I was always in the region. I mean, this is the Holy Land, it's the place to be. So I turned the car around and headed back to Michigan. I can always watch the games on TV, so here I am.
My First Night in Israel
The first night we arrived, we all went to see the Israeli Premier League championship game between Maccabi and Jerusalem. All I can say is, what a game! Wow! I had Jerusalem picked all along, and I was waiving and dancing in the stands. The fans here are incredible. They know everything that is going on in the NBA seemingly before the NBA knows. The game was nip and tuck all the way through. Herb Brown, who is an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks and who is holding several clinics here at the camp, said, 'Maccabi is going to win because Jerusalem doesn't seem like they know how to win.' Jerusalem was leading by five with one minute to go though. I was like, You're nuts. But guess what? Maccabi won. They've actually won 14 years in a row.
The True Meaning of the Friendship Games
Last night we also had the opening ceremonies for the games, similar to those you would see for the Olympics. We were treated to a feast of food. They had a mix of cultural dancing, a string quartet (If I was back home I would say they was good ol' boys playing fiddlin'), and other types of music. After that, we had the dancing where I jumped in the mosh pit. I partied like it was 1999. What can I say, I'm a dancer and they played one of my favorite tunes, 'Ice, Ice, Baby' by Vanilla Ice, and mixed it with something else. I heard that song years ago. That guy was going to be the biggest thing, him and M.C. Hammer. Anyway, we danced with all of the athletes, and they were just having such a great time, both girls and boys together. There was no hostility. That's why it's called the Friendship Games. It's all about bringing people together to show that we are about peace instead of war. So to see everybody dancing together - no one danced with anyone from their own country -- was great. The kids from Lebanon were dancing with the Israelis. I mean, you had to be there to experience the beauty of it all. It was a beautiful look at what the future can be. That's what it is all about. It was really something special.
The Second Day's Events
On Saturday we all went to Jerusalem. The kids swam in the Dead Sea for a couple of hours, washing all of their sins for the future and past away, and then we went to see all of the sites. It was truly special with all of the different religions here. You had the Coptic Christians, the Greek Orthodox Christians, just everyone. I was in this one temple that had so much going on. There is just so much happening, man. Just sightseeing and all the history of how the world came together, all the religions formed. It was just great for that. Like I said, I've been here before, but just from learning and studying, you learn so much more. Plus to see the young people, they are having themselves one heck of a party.
My Plans For Next Year
Next year I have decided that, and I don't know who is going to sponsor it, but I am going to bring me a team here. We'll have a team from America here. That's the only one missing. I think I am going to bring some girl players. My daughters play. I have a 15 year old who is an all-state player back home. It would be some kind of experience for her.
Off to Jordan
On Sunday we're heading to Jordan. I'll be checking back in after Day Three to let you all know how everything is going.
For more on the Second Annual Friendship Games, visit www.thefriendshipgames.org.