Atlanta Sport Pros Inducted into Jewish Hall of Fame

Atlanta Sport Pros Inducted into Jewish Hall of Fame

Sada Jacobson joins Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner and Hawks PR executive Jon Steinberg in becoming the third Atlantan to join the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Jon Steinberg has been with the Hawks since the mid-1990s and remains one of the most revered PR executives in the NBA.
Jon Steinberg has been with the Hawks since the mid-1990s and remains one of the most revered PR executives in the NBA.

Alan Freedman founded and ran the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame from 1993 to 2013. In 2015, he launched the Jewish Sports Heritage Association (JSHA). This coming spring, on Sunday, May 2, the JSHA will hold its 4th Annual Induction Ceremony at Temple Israel of Lawrence, N.Y.

Among the latest class of inductees is Atlanta native and former Olympic fencer Sada Jacobson. In honor of Jacobson becoming the third Atlantan to join the JSHA, the Atlanta Jewish Times is paying homage to this triumvirate.

Sada Jacobson
The latest Atlantan to join the Jewish Sports Heritage Association is an all-time legend in the sport of fencing. Back in June 2003, when Sada Jacobson was an undergraduate at Yale, she triumphed in two consecutive World Cup competitions to become the first U.S. woman and second American fencer to ever rank first in the world. The following summer, she took home a bronze medal in the women’s individual sabre competition during the Summer Olympic Games in Athens. This proved to be a historic development. Although women’s fencing debuted at the 1924 Olympic Games, women were restricted to competing in foil, the lightest weapon. It wasn’t until the 2004 Games that women were allowed to compete in sabre. Four years later, during the next Summer Olympics in Beijing, Jacobson captured two more medals: a silver in the women’s individual sabre competition and a bronze in the team sabre competition.

By excelling in the sabre event, Sada Jacobson became a trailblazer in the sport of women’s fencing.

This is not the first time that Jacobson has been recognized as a world-class Jewish athlete. In 2002, prior to her Olympic glory, Jacobson received the prestigious Marty Glickman Award from the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Commack, N.Y.

Two decades later, induction into the JSHA takes on an even deeper meaning.

“Being inducted into the Jewish Sports Heritage Association reminds me how fortunate I am to live in a place and time where I can pursue my goals without restriction,” says Jacobson, who is a mother of two and an attorney at Krevolin & Horst. “My coach, Arkady Burdan, faced extraordinary discrimination as a Jew in the Soviet Union and immigrated to the United States for a better life. His pursuit of the American dream is what enabled me, in turn, to excel in my sport. This is what I reflect on when I consider what it means to be a Jewish athlete.”

Fencing runs deep in Jacobson’s family. Both of her parents were competitive fencers and her father, David, was a member of the 1974 U.S. Men’s National Sabre Team. Emily, one of Jacobson’s two younger sisters, was also a world-class fencer who represented the U.S. during the 2004 Summer Games, while the youngest, Jackie, is an avid fencer as well.

Josh Pastner
The first Atlanta resident to be inducted into the Jewish Sports Heritage Association was Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach Josh Pastner. Being named to the JSHA’s class of 2019 was a well-deserved honor for the longtime college hoops coach, who was formerly the head coach at Memphis after serving as an assistant on Lute Olson’s staff at the University of Arizona. Since taking over the program in 2016, Pastner has guided the Yellow Jackets to an NCAA tournament berth and its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 28 years. The latter feat was particularly impressive, since Pastner became the first Jewish head coach to guide a college basketball team past traditional ACC powerhouses Duke, University of North Carolina and Florida State.

Josh Pastner – Georgia Tech vs. LSU, December 11, 2021, State Farm Arena, Atlanta, Ga.

Pastner’s work as a tireless recruiter (this is a tall order given the school’s rigorous academic standards and stiff competition from the aforementioned conference rivals) and promoter of the Georgia Tech program has been just as impressive as the team’s solid track record during his tenure. Pastner’s enthusiasm has spread to the Georgia Tech campus, not to mention the Greater Atlanta community: During four pre-pandemic seasons, his Yellow Jackets played in front of a sold-out McCamish Pavilion 13 times while reeling off an 11-game home winning streak.

Yet, for all that Pastner has accomplished — including being named 2017 ACC Coach of the Year — the JSHA recognition remains one of his most personally significant accomplishments for good reason. Pastner, 44, is very observant and, while coaching has made it hard for him to attend synagogue as frequently as he did when he was younger, he stays connected to his roots by bringing a copy of Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski’s “Growing Each Day” with him on road trips. When he is at home, Pastner has made a concerted effort to engage Atlanta’s Jewish community, whether through speaking at the launch of the Jewish Business Network in Midtown Atlanta or inviting Congregation Etz Chaim’s Men’s Club and Georgia Tech Hillel to attend games.

“Any time you can be inducted into a hall of fame that is a true honor,” says Pastner, who played on the 1997 national champion-winning University of Arizona Wildcats team before he took up coaching. “Being inducted into the Jewish Sports Heritage Association is an extra special honor and blessing because it is dealing with Judaism and different Jewish sports figures in all sports, both male and female and both athlete and coach. The names that have been inducted into the Jewish Sports Heritage Association are incredible and just to have your name even associated with that is extremely humbling.”

Jon Steinberg
Jon Steinberg, who has been part of the Atlanta Hawks organization for 28 years and currently serves as the team’s VP of Basketball Communications, received the 2021 Dr. Bruno Lambert Jewish Good Guy in Sports Award from the JSHA last spring. Steinberg, who is known for his compassion, humility and grace, represents a “good guy” in every sense of the word.

Jon Steinberg has been with the Hawks since the mid-1990s and remains one of the most revered PR executives in the NBA.

“My first thought is I don’t know that I did anything special to earn the award,” says Steinberg, the son of a reform rabbi who broke into the NBA as a PR intern for the Washington Bullets in 1993. “I hope it’s just that I’ve worked hard and treated people well and have happened to survive a while in a competitive business. And to be fair, I have been surrounded by amazingly talented and hard-working people.”

When you’ve worked in professional sports as long as Steinberg has, you’re going to miss quite a few personal events. Whether it’s a child’s birthday when you are in Sacramento or a wedding anniversary when you have to be in Detroit, it’s a sacrifice you make for working in an enviable field.

“When one enters into a career in pro sports, it’s natural to think about and understand how team schedules work,” says Steinberg. “Over the years, there have been a lot of missed birthdays, holidays and family events. Work/life balance is without question the most challenging part of the job. It’s not even the hours, it’s when those hours are. My family is incredibly understanding of the trade-off. Maybe it helps that I’ve worked in sports as long as they’ve all known me!”

For much of Steinberg’s tenure with the Hawks, the team hasn’t been a championship contender. This presented an additional challenge for those working in the Hawks PR department, whose task it was to keep the team relevant in a sports town in which the Braves were winning pennants and the Falcons were showcasing stars like Michael Vick and Matt Ryan.

“The main challenge during that time (and there were a lot of very good players and teams during that time) was staying relevant in a very competitive sports and entertainment market,” says Steinberg. “This is an amazing city, and part of what makes it amazing are the multitude of sports (including professional and college) and entertainment options. And those are all our competitors.”

These are better days to be working for the Atlanta Hawks. Since the team changed ownership in 2015, there has been a more acute focus on marketing to the city’s multicultural and millennial sports fans. As such, over the past decade, merchandise sales, TV ratings and applications for season tickets have all skyrocketed. It also doesn’t hurt that the team has one of the league’s most dynamic young stars in point guard Trae Young and appears to be on the upswing after reaching last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.

“Having a successful and charismatic young player like Trae on our roster has changed things for the better,” says Steinberg. “We obviously field a ton of requests for him and work through those with him and his team. But obviously, also the team’s profile has grown, resulting in more national TV games, more attention from casual fans, increased ticket sales, sponsorship sales, etc. And while he is obviously the center of attention, it’s not only Trae, but a number of young and growing players on the roster that aren’t near their primes yet, that have caught the imagination of Hawks’ and NBA fans.”

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