In less than an hour, the LA Lakers will take the floor for Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. Coming off the bench at some point during the first quarter likely will be the “Jewish Jordan.”
That was once a name claimed by Tamir Goodman, a red-headed Orthodox kid from Baltimore who could seriously play back in the day. (Goodman is my age.) He had a scholarship at the University of Maryland, but that fell through when he refused to play on the Sabbath, and two years later he signed a contract with Israel’s top team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and, surprisingly became the league’s first observant Jew. Here he is talking with Gelf:
Anything I’ve ever done, I only did for Judaism. All along, all I’ve ever said is, “I’m just trying to use my God-given talent.” I’m no different than anyone else—you’re a reporter, a lawyer is a lawyer; for me, my talent is basketball. I don’t know; it’s not like I wanted it, or asked for it. I try to be as simple and as humble as possible all the time.
Goodman is still playing, but he’s proven to be no Jordan. He was a standout high school player, and for the Tribe that was enough. Such hype is familiar to anyone who watches college hoops. Every year or so, there is a college player like J.J. Reddick or Adam Morrison, often dubbed Great White Hope, who receives all kinds of accolades only to fall flat in the pros. The optimism is all the more myopic, though, when it comes to Jewish basketball players, and athletes in general. But shortly after I graduated from UCLA, the Bruins picked up a legit point guard from Taft High School. And wouldn’t you know it, he wasn’t only good; he was Jewish.
Jordan Farmar might be a back-up point guard to Derek Fisher, but he’s made some clutch plays this year, including a ridiculous block on a player several inches taller. He has a crucial role as the Lakers vie for another championship, that of point guard relief and occasional shooter, and I’ll be rooting for him, even though I can’t stand the Lakers. If anyone deserves the nom de guerre “Jewish Jordan,” it’s Farmar. (Though, personally, I wish people would stop looking for Jordan; there will never be another, just at there will never be another Wilt or LeBron, being compared to Jordan here.) Three years ago, Farmar talked with The Jewish Journal about growing up Jewish:
He inherited his competitive drive from his father and mentor, Damon Farmar, who played football and baseball at University High and baseball in the minor leagues. The younger Farmar spent countless hours in his father’s clubhouses, hanging out with his father’s teammates, watching his father play.
“I’ve been around success in sports my whole life,” Farmar said. “My father is a professional athlete. I don’t want to be any different. I don’t want to hear you’re not as good or athletic or talented as your father,” said Farmar.
Farmar’s parents divorced when he was young. His mother, Melinda Kolani, and stepfather, Yehuda Kolani, raised Farmar in a Jewish home, took him to Israel and sponsored his Temple Judea bar mitzvah. Farmar doesn’t consider himself observant, but identifies himself as part of the Jewish people.
“That is part of me, of who I am,” said the 2004 Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame High School Athlete of the Year. “People are watching the game, the way I carry myself on and off the court, and I know that all reflects on my community and my people.”
That Farmar knows his actions contribute to something greater than personal success is apparent on the court. As this season progressed, Farmar settled into his leadership role, adjusted his attitude and altered his actions. He worked on staying positive and recognizing that every play, possession and game is a new challenge.
“I’ll play smart; I won’t get any unnecessary fouls, and I’ll contribute,” Farmar said. “I’ve started to listen more to Coach Howland and be more coachable. And as our relationship improves, the team’s play improves.”
Farmar looks young, but doesn’t play like it and often doesn’t act like it. He’s composed, articulate and respectful. He seems unfazed by the pressure placed on him to resurrect Bruin basketball.
He seems comfortable with a responsibility that would panic most adults. But in a moment, the Van Nuys teenager reveals that he deals with the same issues as any other kid from the Valley.
“My mother and father wouldn’t speak if it wasn’t for me,” he said. “To see them at my games, sitting right next to each other, cheering for the same cause, just forgetting about all the other stuff that’s gone along, knowing they love me and are there to be supportive—that makes me feel better than anything.”
In other stories about Jewish athletes, an Orthodox woman plays professional football.
As GOB, or any of the others, might say, “Her?”