The Fall Of JewBall
Around the country the number of Jews who play basketball is growing rapidly — with tournaments, the Maccabi Games and even websites like Jewish Hoops America and Jewish Coaches. But while the ranks continue to grow at both the high school and college level, the NBA bubble seems to have burst.
The high point for Jews in the NBA happened a few years ago. First came the emergence of Omri Casspi, the first Israeli born player to play in the NBA. Right behind him was Lior Eliyahu, who had actually been drafted earlier, but had until that point failed to make it with an NBA team. Graduating from college were NCAA champion Jon Scheyer and Virginia standout Sylven Landesberg, both promising second round draft picks. David Stern led the entire NBA as commissioner. Lawrence Frank coached the Detroit Pistons and Larry Brown coached the Bobcats. Not only that, but the Jews could call their own a bona fide NBA starter in Jordan Farmar. We had several NBA players who had gone on to compete at the highest levels in Israel, as well as many college graduates finding a home in Israel where they could hone their skills. Plus, a real-life NBA All-Star, Amar’e Stoudemire, decided to get in touch with his Jewish roots, and Lebron James, only the biggest star in the league, met with a rabbi. Talk about a productive two and a half years for Jewish basketball.
But since then much of this has crashed. Both Brown and Frank are gone from the NBA coaching scene, and Stern will be stepping down very soon. Farmar washed out of the NBA and has landed in Turkey, and Eliyahu still has not made an NBA roster. (The Minnesota Timberwolves currently own his rights.) After not being drafted, while Landesberg has moved up to Maccabi Tel Aviv, he has yet to get more than a summer league spot on an NBA roster. Anthony Parker, the player who benefited most by playing in Israel, has retired. Scheyer has given up his effort to play at the top level and recently joined the Duke coaching staff. Stoudemire, turns out, isn’t Jewish, and Lebron never converted.
This leaves us with Omri Casspi, Israel’s golden boy, who in his rookie year took the league by storm and looked to be an elite athlete. But now Casspi, limited in minutes and productivity, has been a walking trade rumor, and is considering going back to Israel. While that might be the best option for his career, it would certainly hurt Jewish basketball as a whole. Were that to happen there’d be no NBA player for Jews to rally behind. Our next best hope is Davidson’s Jake Cohen. But he’ll have to prove himself before this month’s NBA draft if he’s to have a shot at the NBA. Even without many playing minutes, having someone like Casspi stay in the NBA is important, as it gives hope to Jewish ballers everywhere that maybe one day they too could play in the NBA.
(Photo: Basketball Schedule)