“Israel’s Biggest Ambassador” Is Also the Coach of the Spelman College Basketball Team

LaVon Mercer is a native of Metter, Georgia. Orphaned at an early age he was raised by his grandparents. At 16 he was adopted as a ward of the state when the last of his grandparents passed away.

Mercer went to the University of Georgia where he was a star basketball player. After his athletic eligibility for college basketball expired in 1980, Mercer, who had not received a college degree, went to Israel to play professional basketball. He stayed in Israel for 14 years. While there he became an Israeli citizen and served for two years in the nation’s defense forces. He played on the Israeli national basketball team in the 1992 Olympics.

Mercer as a member of the Israeli Defense Force

Mercer returned to the United States in 1994 and earned his bachelor’s degree in behavioral psychology from National Louis University. He retains dual citizenship and spends much of his time traveling the country promoting his adopted nation as a goodwill ambassador for the Israeli government. As a black man, Mercer is particularly valuable to the Israeli government given the often strained ties between blacks and Jews in the United States. In his role as a de facto ambassador, Mercer visits black churches, community groups, and colleges in an effort to foster better understanding of Israel among African Americans.

Mercer also works as the associate athletic director and head basketball coach at Spelman College, the highly prestigious historically black institution for women in Atlanta. Mercer’s squad posted a disappointing 8-16 record this past season.