Now there are shnayim. The Dallas Mavericks signed Israeli basketball star Gal Mekel to a three-year contract July 10, making him the second Israeli ever to make it to the National Basketball Association.
Omri Casspi, who recently signed a two-year deal with the Houston Rockets, was the first. He previously played for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Sacramento Kings.
With the two athletes playing in the central time zone, Israelis may have to get up before the crack of dawn to watch their famous countrymen.
Mekel, a point guard, will wear the number 33. He is six foot three inches.
The 25-year-old played college ball for two years at Wichita State University in Kansas from 2006-2008. Since then, Mekel led Maccabi Haifa to its first Israeli Super League championship, upsetting Maccabi Tel Aviv. He was named Israeli Basketball Super League MVP in both 2011 and 2013.
Mekel plans to take it one day at a time, explaining that his goal right now is to do his best in the summer league. Starting with a new team, especially one in the NBA, “is always an adjustment,” he said during a conference call immediately following a press conference held by the Mavericks to announce his signing.
During that press conference, Mekel’s new head coach Rick Carlisle asked him first about the pronunciation of his names.
“This is a big day for Israeli basketball and the country. We recognize that,” Carlisle told the pess.
Carlisle attempted to downplay expectations, noting that “Gal in particular has been a very successful player internationally” but that doesn’t automatically mean he’ll be great right out of the gate.
“We want to be careful of expectations,” he said. “He’s a rookie in this league.”
“His learning curve is going to be one that he is going to have to work with, but his experience is going to help,” Carlisle said.
Mekel agreed. “Of course, it’s going to be an adjustment, but basketball is basketball,” he said. “I am willing to learn. I am confident I will get there.”
The athlete praised playing in Israel. “I loved the Israeli league. A lot of good Americans are coming to play along with a lot of Israeli players,” he said.
He called Casspi a pioneer and thanked him for both paving the way and for connecting him with his personal coach.
Mekel tried out for several teams and ended up as a Maverick, because, “They saw me in a few games. I had a very good camp over here.”
The Dallas Mavericks “were really interested, and they put a good offer on the table. I like the place. I like the city. I love the people over here. For me, it was an easy choice.”
By NBA standards, the offer wasn’t all that good. Mekel agreed to the minimum salary contract, which includes $2.3 million guaranteed over the three years, according to Samuel Porter, director of basketball operations at Exclusive Sports Group.
He described himself as “a true point guard” who works to involve all his players and tries “to make my teammates better.” To be successful, Mekel said he must first learn about his teammates and their tendencies and do the best he can.
He refused to predict how many minutes he would play or points he would score as a Maverick. “I just want to take it day by day,” he said, adding, “it is important to play well, gain confidence in the new league and make a good impression on the coaching staff.”
In a country not known for famous athletes, Israeli Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat took the time to acknowledge Mekel’s signing, writing on her Facebook page that he “proves that with talent, motivation and hard work, the sky is the limit.”