A Slam Dunk For The Jews

...and if you can't play basketball, you can always wear one (a basketball kippah, that is).

What is going on with basketball players and Judaism?

First Amar’e Stoudemire heads off to Israel to search for possible Jewish roots on his mother’s side. There, he shows off his Magen David tattoo and sports an extra-large knitted kippah.

Then, Shaquille O’Neal is caught on video wishing us a “L’shanah tovah” (albeit over a month early) and “Shalom.” Oh, and for good measure, he also throws in a “Baruch Hashem,” dropping a clear hint as to the type of Jew from whom he has learned his Hebrew.

To top it all off, we learned that just today¬†LeBron James reportedly hired a shady “rabbi to the business stars” named Yishayahu Yosef Pinto for a cool six-figure sum, to provide him spiritual guidance for a high-stakes merchandising meeting.

While these NBA stars are simply Jewish wannabes, it turns out that there once were major NBA players who were undisputedly Jewish. Maybe all this current interest in Judaism among the kings of the court is a way of thanking – or even channeling – the athletic yids who were among the first basketball royalty.

Never heard of those guys? Well, you can meet them in David Vyorst’s 2008 documentary, The First Basket. The film is narrated by actor Peter Riegert, whom you may recall shooting a few hoops down on the LES at the court across from his pickle stand in Crossing Delancey (he played Sam “the Pickle Man” Posner).

But, hey – this does not mean that there aren’t anymore Jews who can sink baskets. There are some talented Jewish basketball players these days, and not all of them are even professional or amateur athletes. Just a couple of weeks ago, actor Jeremy Piven nailed an amazing trick shot at a promotional event in LA.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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