Hundreds of basketball fans gathered at Jerusalem’s Malha arena on Sunday to watch Los Angeles Lakers captain Pau Gasol conduct a basketball clinic with Jewish and Muslim kids from Hapoel Jerusalem’s youth team.

The basketball clinic was put together with the help of Arn Tellem, Hapoel Jerusalem co-owner and Pau Gasol’s well-known agent. Gasol, who met earlier in the day with President Shimon Peres on his first trip to Israel, stated that it was very important for him to conduct the clinic with Jewish and Muslim kids, to promote peace and coexistence.

The four-time all-star worked with the youngsters on their shooting, dribbling and defending skills, running several intense drills. At the end of the clinic, Hapoel Jerusalem’s management gave Gasol an honorary Hapoel Jerusalem jersey with his name on the back. At one stage, Gasol promised his shoes to one of the youngsters in whichever team won the next game they were playing.

“I am pleased to be here to participate in this workshop and teach these kids a few things. I also had a chance to get to know the city of Jerusalem, which was wonderful and a great experience,” he said.

On Sunday morning, Peres hosted the Spanish star at the President’s Residence along with a delegation of young local basketball players. “I am honored to have you in light of all your accomplishments and your personality,” Peres told a smiling Gasol.

“You are a role model to Israeli children – your work inspires hope,” Peres told him.

Gasol, 33 years old and 7 feet tall, said he had come to Israel to meet the people and was pleased to have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the youth. “Sport is the best way to progress peace. It doesn’t matter which religion you are, with sport everyone speaks the same language,” he said.

Gasol presented Peres with a Spanish national team basketball jersey — Peres asked him: “If I wear this jersey, will I reach your height?” — and offered his congratulations to Maccabi Tel Aviv for their EuroLeague victory.

Peres spoke on the importance of sports in today’s society. “People learn to play without discrimination and in the spirit of fairness,” Peres said. “In wars, people fight to kill. In sports, they fight, but to become friends.”

Added Peres: “Our message in this meeting is that basketball unites cultures and religions from around the world, and you are the symbol of this.”

Gasol, who has won two NBA championships with the Lakers, was asked later if Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Euroleague-winning head coach David Blatt could be the first European coach to lead a team in the NBA. “I believe so,” Gasol said. “It’s mostly a matter of the situation and opportunity.”

Gasol is staying in Israel for five days touring the country, including a visit to Masada.

President Shimon Peres and his tall friend Pau Gasol, June 1, 2014 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

President Shimon Peres and his tall friend Pau Gasol, June 1, 2014 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)