Sports Outside the Beltway

The game of faith

Remember Tamir Goodman? The “Jewish Jordan” to some. The Baltimore Sun’s correspondent caught up with him recently in “Jewish Jordan still keeping the faith

Now 25, with a neatly trimmed red beard bordering his still-boyish face, Goodman plays in the second tier of Israel’s professional basketball league. Not the place NBA scouts come looking for the next Michael Jordan.

Now married and living in Israel, Tamir hasn’t exactly lived up to the hype that surrounded him. The article is unclear if that his talent is lacking or his health.

As the first Orthodox Jew to play Division I basketball, Goodman became a role model in the Jewish community and a test of American tolerance.

“He was a Joe Lieberman in sneakers,” says Jeffrey Gurock, a professor of American Jewish history at Yeshiva University, where he is also an assistant basketball coach. “He became the fulfillment of the American Orthodox youngster’s fantasy that a kid could be so good as a basketball player that the world would stand on its head to accommodate his religious values.”

If Tamir is now obscure though, consider what once was.

At the peak of his popularity, Goodman was receiving more than 700 media requests a week and was interviewed by 60 Minutes and Sports Illustrated and featured on ESPN.

He’s not kidding. We once saw a TV crew set up on our street, around a corner and maybe a half mile from where Tamir lived.

Still Tamir might have opened the door for other Orthodox Jewish athletes, however rare they might be.

As Goodman’s star has faded, other Jewish sports figures have emerged, combating the stereotype of Jews as only scholars, Gurock says. Benjamin Rubin, a 17-year-old Orthodox Jewish hockey player from Montreal, appears to be on the fast track to the NHL. Dmitriy Salita, a Ukrainian-American top welterweight boxer, is also deeply observant and refuses to fight on the Sabbath.

When Tamir ended up backing out of the deal with Maryland, Ken Rosenthal, then a columnist for the Baltimore Sun, wrote an excellent column criticizing Gary Williams’s behavior, Williams fails, Goodman aces test of faith.

All Gary Williams had to tell Tamir Goodman was that it couldn’t work. But that’s not what happened, is it?

Not even close.Not even at the bitter end.
Williams had to jump last Jan. 10, had to offer Goodman a basketball scholarship to Maryland, had to lock up this high school junior, right then and there, before other schools could enter the mix.

His ignorance of the complexities presented by Goodman’s Orthodox Jewish religion is forgivable. His refusal to play it straight with a 17-year-old — particularly one of such principle — is not.

Even acknowledging that Tamir may not have been as good as originally advertised, Rosenthal points out that Williams made it clear that he never fully understood Tamir’s commitment to observance. In a nutshell Rosenthal summed it up nicely

And you can bet Williams is relieved, too.

He now can give Goodman’s scholarship to a player who will be available seven days a week instead of six, a player whose religious beliefs won’t disrupt Williams’ almighty program.

Goodman answers to a different almighty, and that was the heart of the conflict.

A lot of us were rooting for Tamir. Hopefully, he’ll get his chance to play for a while without injury. Still, it’s nice to see that while he may not spend much time in the air, his feet are firmly on the ground.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

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