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Freed Israeli soldier-turned-sportswriter to attend NBA Finals

The former Israeli soldier who was held hostage for more than five years by Muslim extremists is launching a new career — sometime NBA columnist.

Former Israeli Army Sgt. Major Gilad Shalit was bound for Oklahoma City on his first assignment for the Jewish state’s leading newspaper, Yediot Ahranot, covering the NBA Finals.

He missed Tuesday’s Game 1, when the Thunder trounced the Heat, but was expected in Oklahoma City in time for Game 2.

In June 2006, the Palestinian Muslim fundamentalist Hamas movement captured Shalit, then a 19-year-old corporal, in an attack on an Israeli military outpost from the Gaza Strip. He was released eight months ago as part of high-profile prisoner exchange, done in stages, between Hamas and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Wednesday, the newspaper’s foreign editor said that Shalit, 25, would function as a special correspondent from the NBA Finals and write about the Finals for the weekend newspaper. “He’ll write an article or two about it because he’s a great fan,” said Daniel Bettini by telephone from Tel Aviv.

Bettini said that Gilad not written before for any newspaper before this week but that he would likely write a weekly article for Yediot about basketball and other sports “on a permanent basis.”

In Oklahoma City, the NBA’s Mike Perrelli said Shalit was being “credentially for all NBA Finals games. I have no timetable on his arrival though.”

Perrelli initially said that Shalit applied too late to get a media credential and that all the space in both arenas had been allocated. He amended his response nearly three hours later, after The Miami Herald reported on the special assignment, saying he had misunderstood.

It was not immediately known which team the Israeli favored although on April 23, 2009 then-Mayor Manny Diaz issued a proclamation granting the then-hostage Shalit honorary citizenship in Miami.

The Heat has several ties to Israel, notably Heat limited partner Raanan Katz is a former member of the Israeli national team and used to own Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel’s powerhouse basketball team.

Miami Heat spokesman Tim Donovan said by email from Oklahoma City that team owner Micky Arison and CEO Nick Arison didn’t know Shalit but looked forward to meeting him.