TEL AVIV, Israel - Obtaining a visa to play in the United States remains a major irritant for the non-Americans in the league. Most of the time the NBA teams turn their attorneys loose on the immigration matter. But as Omri Casspi is learning - as did Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu back in the day - the process is not hassle-free. Multiple time-consuming meetings at the U.S. Embassy remain common. In Casspi's case, the Kings rookie appeared for a 7:30 a.m., appointment on Tuesday and was required to return again Wednesday to finalize the paperwork. He sounded relieved to have the matter resolved. "Done, over," he said afterward. "I'm ready to go."
Since I'm returning home late Thursday night, only two evenings before he returns to the States to begin preparing for his inaugural season, we'll probably meet for coffee in the early afternoon. I have two final interviews scheduled later in the day, including the grand finale with longtime Maccabi Tel Aviv president Shimon Mizrahi.
With his organization in turmoil and the management team in flux, this should be a very interesting meeting. I'm hoping Mizrahi will be as candid as former Maccabi stars Mickey Berkowitz and Tal Brody, though that' s probably asking too much. Perhaps Omri's decision to leave Maccabi for the NBA will prove inspiring. The tape will be rolling ...
Awaiting word on that Kings visit
Many of the basketball types here are eagerly awaiting confirmation on the possibility of a Kings-Maccabi preseason game here in 2010. The last I've heard, nothing is official. Although the NBA and the Kings are pushing for the matchup at the Nokia Center, Maccabi's home court, basketball's international governing body (FIBA) has to approve any such arrangement. There is little reason to think this might not happen, but talks are said to be ongoing. Maccabi hasn't played in America since getting trounced by the Miami Heat in 1999. However, the Israeli basketball behemoth will take on the Clippers in the Staples Center on Oct. 15. They will also play the Knicks on that trip.
Slipping briefly into the role of the tourist
Between interviews Wednesday, I took the bus to Jerusalem to visit a few of the historic religious sites that were missed when Omri drove myself and a photographer to the Old City Sunday for a private tour of the Wailing Wall and surrounding area. I was disappointed to discover that the Temple Mount was closed for the afternoon, so had to settle for hearing the Muslims' call to prayer as I wandered around.
Later, after purchasing a few souvenirs - OK, more than a few souvenirs - I trudged up the hill to the famous King David Hotel. I couldn't resist. I sipped coffee on the balcony cafe where the late Paul Newman wooed Eva Marie Saint in the classic 1960s film, "Exodus," and almost immediate decided that the hotel was even more captivating than a young Paul Newman. The balcony cafe and terrace offer sweeping views of the Old City. (Let's see if my photos come out!). There is also a "Reading Room" just off the lobby that features a wall display of black and white photos chronicling the history of the hotel, and thus, of Israel. I refused to check the room rate, though. I didn't want to know ...