Friday, July 12, 2013

Boker meets idol Casspi

Shai Boker had dreamed of hanging out with his favorite athlete, Omri Casspi, for years.

His room is filled with Casspi paraphernalia, from an Israeli national team jersey to a rookie card. As a diehard fan, Boker peruses Casspi’s fan page frequently. One day, he found something that caught his eye.

Casspi was running a basketball camp at Gann Academy in Waltham in early July. Boker, 18, knew working there was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up, so he and his family emailed Casspi’s partner Tamir Goodman looking to see if Shai could be an assistant coach.

He got it.

Boker attended Casspi’s camp, called Omri Casspi Basketball Camp in Partnership with Tamir Goodman, from July 7-11. He was an assistant coach for younger players in the morning and a camper in the afternoon. The Lexington resident Boker honed his teaching ability and basketball skills, all while spending quality time with the player he’s admired for years.

“Meeting him is basically a dream come true,” Boker said. “He’s my favorite player and I know so much about him.”

Boker remembers Casspi’s first NBA game vividly. He knew Casspi scored 15 points in a 102-89 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder back in 2009. 

The two chatted for hours during the weeklong camp – Boker sharing his favorite Casspi moments and his idol smiling and helping his new friend live out his dream.

“It’s awesome,” Casspi said with a smile. “He knows more stats about me than I know about myself.”

One day, Boker decided to challenge Casspi to a game of H-O-R-S-E. It was a battle of sharpshooters.

Two days after the fierce competition, Casspi called Shai’s name. Boker took one last shot and dribbled over to the row of chairs where the 6-foot-9 small forward sat.

“What was the score when we played H-O-R-S-E?” Casspi asked Boker.

“H-O-R-S-E for me, nothing for you,” Boker said, laughing, turning back to the basket and launching another 3-pointer.

Boker first became a fan of Casspi’s during the 2006-07 season, far before even the most avid NBA aficionado knew the current Houston Rocket forward. They both lived in Israel, Boker in a village called Avigdor, and Casspi in a town named Yavne, just 20 minutes away.

When Casspi entered the NBA and suited up for the Sacramento Kings, basketball junkie Boker’s infatuation grew. Boker now had a chance to watch him square off against some of his other favorite teams, including the Boston Celtics.

“It’s been really phenomenal,” Boker said about watching Casspi in the NBA. “The thing I’ll remember most is his ‘posterization’ of Kobe Bryant. He got an And One.”

Boker went to a Kings-Celtics game on Jan. 11, 2011. The family brought a poster that read, “Casspi, you are the King” in Hebrew. Seeing Casspi play in person in the NBA was a start, but Boker was left wanting more.

Little did he know that was just the beginning of their relationship.

Fast forward two and a half years.

Casspi and Boker are shooting the breeze and shooting jumpers, getting to know each other and talking about Casspi’s most memorable NBA games.

“He’s a fun guy, man,” Casspi said of Boker. “I love him a lot and he helps a lot with the kids. He shows a lot of great leadership.”

Boker made sure to get his Israeli national team jersey signed, something he couldn’t do at the game. But the material objects aren’t what matter to Boker the most. It’s the friendship he built – one that he hopes will continue to grow.

Boker and Casspi pose at the courts at Gann Academy

Boker wants to work at the camp again next year. Though the plans aren't set in stone, Boker said there's a good chance he'll get to live his dream one more time. 

Said Boker: “It’s special to me because I met my favorite player who I have looked up to since he was drafted.”

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