OTISFIELD — Eighteen-year-old Kamal was more than cooperative and apologetic. No, he said, he doesn’t know much about America’s NBA. He didn’t recognize the names of the rookies who were just introduced Thursday morning to the Seeds of Peace campers.

Brandon Knight, the star point guard from Kentucky and drafted by the Detroit Pistons is a stranger to him. So were Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie from Georgia and bound for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Jordan Hamilton from Texas? Kyle Singler from Duke? Kamal’s eyes said sorry and his shoulders shrugged. He lives in Cairo, Egypt’s largest city, and it is soccer, the world’s game, that makes his heart beat faster.

Although not so fast as the stirrings of freedom and revolution this February in a country that waited too long to experience either.

“Have you watched what is happening in my country? I am so happy, so optimistic. Peace agreements are made by governments, but the peace is enforced by us, the people. That we have done this without war is very powerful.”

Silly me. I was about to ask if he could relate in any way to the NBA lockout and the possible disruption in the lives of American basketball fans. How trivial compared to a nation that pulls together to remake itself.


Standing next to Kamal, 17-year-old Almog couldn’t hide his grin. He is from Nahariya, an Israeli coastal city of some 50,000 less than 10 miles from the border with Lebanon. When Almog was 11, Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah in Lebanon found targets in his city.

Two summers ago, Kamal and Almog met each other at this former boys camp on the shore of Pleasant Lake. They were invited back this summer to serve as mentors to the younger campers but their friendship survived their return to the Middle East.

“Almog called me when everything was happening in Cairo. He was concerned,” Kamal said. “We talked a lot.”

“We think we come from the same father,” said Almog — security concerns in their part of the world require that they identify themselves by first names only. “We are brothers in our souls,” Kamal said.

Except Almog didn’t try to hide his love of anything with an NBA stamp on it. He pointed to his basketball shoes, a pair of Nikes endorsed by LeBron James.

“I’m pretty disappointed LeBron isn’t here. I’m basically a Lakers fan, but if he was here, I’d give him a hug. I know (Americans) don’t like him because of his announcement (that he would leave Cleveland for Miami). I try to model my game after him.”


I stood next to Almog. It’s doubtful he was 6-feet tall. “I’m the tallest on my team,” he said. “So I play like LeBron.”

LeBron would certainly be welcomed at Seeds of Peace. But the NBA rookies who find their way here are guided by their agent, Arn Tellem, who was a camper here as a boy nearly 45 years ago. LeBron isn’t represented by Tellem which in this perspective is a shame.

Brian Scalabrine, the former Boston Celtics role player, returns year after year. This summer was Jordan Farmar’s third trip. The Los Angeles native and former Lakers’ point guard has made five visits to Israel, where his step-father was born. Farmar holds week-long basketball camps for Israeli and Palestinian children.

“I’m not into the politics. I don’t pay a lot of attention to the events. To me, it’s just getting kids from different backgrounds to be teammates and play the game. I enjoy that. I support what (Seeds of Peace does) but for me the fun is to get the kids to forget all the other things in their lives even if it is just for a short time.”

Which is why his smile lit up his end of an inside court Thursday. He might have been showing off a little. Almost every shot he took went into the basket.

Yes, the mission of Seeds of Peace is to find the common ground, initiate communication and enable dreams. Many times this is serious, emotional business.


Thursday, while laughter and smiles brought the NBA players and campers together, there was also talk of more tangible evidence that the overall mission is succeeding. A number of Seeds were in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for the demonstrations that brought down Hosni Mubarak and opened up a new world.

One former camper, Mostafa Falmy, released a video that went viral. It was a collection of scenes set to music and the theme: “In every street in my country, the voice of freedom is calling.” You can access it at www.seedsofpeace.org/freedom.

“Americans think where we live is all war, all bombs, all the time,” said Almog, the basketball player who will soon begin his one-year mandatory service to his country. “That’s not true.

“We live.”


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