Kibbutz to Glory

Picture from

Seth Schwartzberg

While the 2021 NBA draft was full of future stars, few stand out like the number-nine pick by the Washington Wizards: Deni Avdija, a 19-year-old from Beit Zera, Israel. Avdija is just the fourth ever NBA player from Israel and only the second Israeli currently playing in the NBA, the other being Indiana Pacers forward T.J. Leaf. 

As a kid, Avdija was raised on a kibbutz in Israel by a father who was a longtime professional basketball coach and player. When he was 16, Advija joined the Maccabi Tel Aviv team, becoming the youngest player to start a game in the team’s history.  He started his professional career, immediately joining the Israeli Premier League and helping his team win the League championship in only his second year on the team. His season was later suspended for three months due to COVID-19; when he returned, he started turning heads, averaging nearly thirteen points a game and becoming the youngest player to ever win the Israeli League MVP.

Freshman Matthew Mintz says that seeing a young Israeli making the league “inspires people to strive to work harder. However, it doesn’t make me believe I can do what he did.  It’s very cool to see a Jewish guy get drafted, especially as high as he did.” Freshman Eddie Kalmin agreed, saying, “I feel like now that Deni was a lottery pick, younger Jewish kids will aspire to be better and try to do the same thing Deni did, and then they could become an inspiration to their fellow younger Jewish peers.” Another student excited about the pick is Junior Justin Bolton.

“This gives young Jewish kids the ability to look up to a pro athlete,” says Bolton. “Kids already look up to athletes, but to be able to share something in common with an athlete is something else. It could make kids think that maybe one day they can achieve their goals not just athletically but everywhere else. In a sport like basketball, you don’t see Jews taking over the league so it can inspire kids to chase their dreams no matter how daunting it may be,” 

Bolton touched on the topic of this “becoming a trend”; however, he does not seem optimistic. “I’m not so sure it will create a trend of young Jewish athletes becoming pros because it takes a lot of hard work to become a pro athlete and you have to dedicate your life to it. You also have to be genetically gifted in a lot of sports and have to work all your life for it, so just seeing one Jewish guy go to the NBA doesn’t necessarily mean that any kid can get there.”

Seeing athletes from Israel is something that only happens once every few years, and Deni is the highest-rated prospect that has ever come out of Israel. He has changed the views of what it means to be a Jewish athlete and is proving anyone wrong who had the stereotype about Jews not being good athletes or good at sports. He is turning heads because of his age and origin, and he will continue to do so as his career starts in the NBA.