NBA at Hazerim Air Base NBA at Hazerim Air Base NBA at Hazerim Air Base NBA at Hazerim Air Base A special delegation of basketball players of the world’s top league arrived to see the “Black Hawk” helicopters of the “Desert Birds” Squadron. The players were notably excited, and so are members of the squadron

Jonathan Meroz | Nikolai Avrutov

A group of NBA players, whose trip to Israel was organized by AIPAC, visited the Hazerim air base over the weekend. The delegation, composed of past and present NBA players and their staff members, was headed by Dwight Howard, considered to be one of the best defence players in the entire league.

 The group already toured the Golan Heights up the north, visited Christian sites near the Sea of Galilee, paid its respects to Holocaust victims at “Yad Va-Shem”, met the President, and even visited the rocket-stricken town of Sderot, near the Gaza strip.

“This is the first time we work with athletes, and introduce them to the political and the security situation in Israel, and the strategic challenges our country is facing”, said Debora Pat, director of AIEF (America Israel Education Foundation), sister foundation of AIPAC. “We chose to visit the air base, as IDF in general and the air force in particular is part of the everyday life here”.

The “Desert Birds” squadron, which operates the Blackhawk helicopters, was chosen to host the players. Captain R., a pilot in the squadron, explained about the helicopter and played several videos recorder by a camera attached to a soldier’s helmet. The Blackhawk helicopter is broadly used by air force’s search and rescue unit 669. The video showed the soldier joining a doctor at the battle field, and a mortar rocket exploding near the helicopter right upon take off.

“Can you tell us about the psychological challenge of becoming attached to someone in your unit, when you know either of you can be gone tomorrow?”, Anthony Bonner asked the Captain. “We have a long training course at the flight academy which deals with these issues among others. We learn how to face death and how to carry on”, the Captain replied.

Later, the athletes toured the hangars, watched several takeoffs and landings, and even tried to fit into a helicopter. The Blackhawk, which can normally carry 18 to 22 soldiers, turned out a bit too small for the tall basketball players. “Great helicopters”, concluded Dwight Howard. “and everyone here has very important roles”.

“We see a lot of movies about helicopters in America, but to see them up close like that is something else”, said Barry Pintar, a member of the delegation. With the rotor engine roaring at the background he explained that this is not his first time at an air base. Moreover, he happened to sit at the front seat of a jet fighter no less. “I was a reporter at CBS for many years, and that was a special report for the evening news, otherwise I would never had a chance to fly a jet. I flew on an F-16 of the “Thunderbirds”, the aerobatic unit of the American Air Force. I reached nine Js”.

Today, the NBA players will play with the Bnei-Sharon team, a top-league basketball team of Israel.