Welcome home, Omri Casspi.
The first Israeli to play in the NBA announced on Tuesday - just 24 hours after the latest round of talks between players and owners broke down, leaving the fate of the 2011/2012 season hanging in the balance - that he has inked a deal with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Reports say however that, for tax purposes, he will not rejoin the Yellows until January.
This is good news for Maccabi, which can now boast yet another former NBA player in its roster, as it steamrolls its way to another Israeli championship. It is good news for Casspi, whose reported earnings of $1.3 million for the about-to-be-canceled season were in danger of disappearing.
It is not, however, good news for Israeli basketball.
Already packing more top-class players than it has room for, Maccabi is about to get even stronger. Its unparalleled financial clout allowed it to offer Casspi the kind of remuneration that no other Israel team could even dream of. If the league was a one-horse race before Casspi's arrival, it is about to become even less competitive.
You can't blame Maccabi. It has the financial wherewithal to secure the services of the best players available and it is duty-bound to do just that. And maybe we can't blame Casspi for wanting to return to the team where he started his professional career.
But one can't help being a little disappointed at the implicit greed of both sides. Maccabi is already in a league of its own in terms of financial muscle and its ability to recruit top players. It doesn't need Casspi to win the Israeli league and it already has enough firepower to waltz into the Final Four of the Euroleague. Snapping up Casspi is, to put it simply, gluttonous.
As for Casspi, he, too, cannot be blamed for jumping at the chance to recoup some of the money he stands to lose if the NBA season is junked.
But wouldn't it have been refreshing if he'd opted to join a smaller team instead? If he had decided that the millions he has earned as an NBA player - not to mention his lucrative sponsorship deals - were enough and that he'd rather challenge himself by joining, say, Hapoel Holon or Maccabi Ashdod.
Would it not have made a pleasing change for Casspi to turn his back on the big bucks and give something to a less glamorous team.
After all, the few months he spends back in Israel will not make or break him financially, but they could be used to create a new spirit in Israeli sports.
In an age when money has replaced loyalty, integrity and honor as the driving force behind professional sports, it's sad to someone pass up a golden opportunity to buck that trend.
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