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March 7, 2023 3:10 pm

WNBA Players Open Up About Playing in Israel While Country Faces Rocket Attacks


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

A 2017 Women’s National Basketball Association final. Photo: Lorie Shaull via Wikimedia Commons

Current and former players in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) shared with The Athletic recently their stories of traveling overseas to compete in the offseason and two athletes revealed what their experiences were like being in Israel when the country was facing rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups.

WNBA Chicago Sky player Rebekah Gardner, who shared on Instagram a video from her visit to Tel Aviv in February, recalled her first year playing in Israel in 2012 and wanting to hit the town the night before the country was attacked with missiles. That same year, in response to intense rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense targeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists.

“Once, our coaches told us to stay in for the night, but in Israel there’s a big night life and we noticed that no one was out,” she remembered. “We didn’t understand why, and we came to understand that the next day there were missiles being flown to Israel. So when we told them we went out they were scared for us and we were scared for ourselves. That’s when I realized I’m in a foreign country. That was kind of like when I realized I’m overseas. I need to be more aware of my surroundings.”

Gardner played in Israel during the first four years of her professional basketball career. She played for the women’s team Hapoel Petah Tikva during the 2012-2013 season; with Elitzur Holon in the 2013-2014 season; and with Maccabi Ramat Hen from 2014-2016 season. She was also named the Israeli League MVP during her time with Ramat Hen and in the 2019-2020 season she returned to Israel and played with Bnot Herzliya.

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Briann January — Connecticut Sun assistant coach and recent member of the French team Lyon ASVEL Feminin and Turkey’s Çukurova Mersin — also shared with The Athletic her memories of being in Israel in 2010 when the country was being bombed. According to the Israel Security Agency, Palestinians launched 150 rocket and 215 mortar attacks at Israel during that year.

“S*** was popping off, I could literally hear the boom, and then you could hear the bomb sirens,” January said. “Then I’d go outside and people were at the cafe, having their shakshuka, chilling, like nothing was going on. Of course my parents were like, ‘get out of there.’ But everybody here is just reassuring us that you’re safe. And me, not knowing, I was freaking out. They were like, ‘you have a bomb shelter in your apartment.’ And I was like, ‘why do I need a bomb shelter?'”

January played professionally overseas for four years in Turkey from 2009-2010 and then in Israel from 2010-2013.

The Athletic additionally spoke to Maya Caldwell, a WNBA guard for the Indiana Fevers who most recently played with Israel’s Maccabi Ironi Ramat Gan, and Jillian Alleyne, an WNBA veteran and who also played for the Israeli team. Alleyne spoke about what she called the initial “mind-blowing” and “weird” experience of being overseas when she first arrives in any foreign country. She said, “I think the ‘I’m overseas moment; hits me when I land in the country, and I get picked up and I get sent to my apartment. And you just sit in it and you’re like, I’m really here. I can’t go home or go down the street and see my mom.”


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