Washington Bullets' owner Abe Pollin realized one of his major dreams last season when his team won the National Basketball Association championship. This week, he will realize another: he is taking the Bulets to Israel.
The team will leave New York tomorrow and play a game Thursday night against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the country's best club team. But basketball is the least of the priorities on the seven-day tour.
As team captain Wes Unseld put it:
"It's a place I've never seen and probably will never see again, a place I've always wanted to see. I'm looking forward to it. My wife and myself are interested in the kibbutzim, the schools and the forms of education."
Connie Unseld is a teacher who is doing a special project on kibbutzim, Israel's collective settlements and farms.
For Pollin, one of America's prime fund-raisers for Israel, it is an opportunity to bring his players, top management and wives together for a week and to further his unofficials role as Israel's travel agent.
"I've said this many times, to Jews and Christians alike who are going to Israel for the first time - It's an unbelievable experience," Pollin said. "You're walking the Bible. Nowhere in the world are you exposed to what you see in Israel.
"All the major religions started there. Being together will be great for the team and our wives. It will be a great experience."
The Thursday game will be the only basketball the Bullets will play during the week. It is a benefit for the U.S. Committee Sports for Israel, whose vice president, Alan Sherman of Washington, arranged the trip.
Pollin will underwrite any losses, but Sherman said the game is expected to sell out Tel Aviv's 10,000-seat Yad Elihau Sports Palace and will be televised live throughout Europe.
An Israeli firm crew also will produce a 28-minute documentary that the Bullets are selling to commercial television and will also use for promotional purposes later.
Two Bullets will not make the trip, Phil Chenier, who is recovering at Sibley Memorial Hospital from back surgery, and Charlie Johnson, who the club said had made previous commitments and could not break them.
Among the sightseeing highlights of the trip will be visits to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Narazeth, Caesarea and the Dead Sea.
"They'll see the Wailing Wall and swim in the Dead Sea," Pollin promised.
The Bullets also will meet with Yitzhak Navon, head of state, who will greet the Bullets in the absence of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who will be attending the Camp David summit meeting on the Middle East.
In addition, the Bullets will be nonored at a reception at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.
They also will tour the Wingate Institute, which is a sort of national sports center that includes training facilities and offers instruction in coaching, the teaching of physical education and did in sports medicine.
Originally, the tour was supposed to include both the Bullets and the 1977 NBA champions, the Portland Trail Blazers. Sherman set up the tour on a weekend visit to Israel around July 4.
But, according to Sherman, because of Bill Walton's broken foot, Portland President Larry Weinberg asked out. Then the plans were made to play Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Sherman, a Washington jeweler, arranged all details of the trip, including security precautions. The Israeli government does not advertise its security measures and all Sherman will say is, "Israeli authorities are aware of the trip and are taking care of the security that has to be done."
But that seems to be farthest from the minds of the people going.
"I don't fear anything like that," said forward Elvin Hayes from his home in Houston. "It would hurt their cause more than help it.
"Going to Israel is something I've always wanted to do because Christianty began there; I want to visit Jerusalem and see the religious roots for most of the people of the world.
"I've been reading all these books about Israel, and it fascinates me. People I've talked to here say, 'Can I be a ball boy or something?' It's a trip everyone wants to take."