Tamir Goodman, NBA Vets Lead Hoops Clinic in Israel

Tamir Goodman, NBA Vets Lead Hoops Clinic in Israel

The original “Jewish Jordan,” Tamir Goodman, recruits former NBA players Michael Sweetney and Eddy Curry to help lead basketball clinic in Israel.

It was April 2000 and Tamir Goodman was alone in the corner of the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., warming up for the Capital Classic all-star game, the country’s most prestigious high school basketball exhibition that showcases Division I-bound players.

The slender red-headed Goodman, recently dubbed “The Jewish Jordan” by Sports Illustrated was, at this point, an object of fascination among his peers and those in attendance. As a kippah-wearing Orthodox Jew who refused to play on Saturdays, Goodman, then a senior at Takoma Academy who had committed to playing at the University of Maryland, was largely ostracized by his fellow all-stars, who struggled to relate to his unique background. Except for one burly teammate—Oxon Hill’s Michael Sweetney, who took the initiative to reach out.

“Everybody knew he [Goodman] was ‘The Jewish Jordan,’” explained Sweetney. “Where we’re from, we had never seen a Jewish person before. We had obviously heard of them, but we never had actually seen a person with a kippah. When he came to the tournament, everybody treated him differently, really didn’t talk to him.

“My pops raised me to love and respect everybody. When everybody broke off to shoot free throws, he [Goodman] was like by himself. So, I went down there, and we just started talking. And he was kind of confused, like, ‘Why are you talking to me?’ We just hit it off, had a great conversation and for me, I didn’t really care about the articles and him wearing a kippah. I saw him as a human being.”

Twenty-two years later, Goodman, who lives in Israel as a means of paying homage to his late grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, and Sweetney remain close friends. Goodman has not only helped Sweetney land an assistant coaching gig at Yeshiva University after the big man retired from the pro ranks, after playing for the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls, but also motivated him to visit Israel and participate in his hoops clinics that galvanize scores of kids belonging to a multitude of religious and ethnic backgrounds.

While Sweetney was initially hesitant to visit Israel because of the seemingly ubiquitous news reports highlighting acts of violence afflicting the Israeli people, he ultimately overcame such fears, and now refers to Israel as “a beautiful place” and one that he intends to introduce to his entire family one day.

Sweetney isn’t the only former NBA player whom Goodman has recruited for his clinics. Eleven-year NBA veteran Eddy Curry, he of the 2011-12 world champion Miami Heat, was reluctant to visit for similar reasons, before ultimately making the journey to join Sweetney at Goodman’s camps this past summer.

Eddy Curry

“The peace that I felt when I was there,” said Curry, who, in addition to coaching at the basketball camps also visited holy sites such as Yad Vashem, where he was able to draw a parallel between the hardships faced by the Jewish people and those inflicted on his African American ancestors. “Here [America], I kind of feel that I have been on a hamster wheel for a long time—just playing basketball and getting into that whole system and going into the NBA. Everything moved so fast. And nothing was really different. I was able to go to Israel and I felt something different. It had nothing to do with money. Nobody was over there trying to see how much money you had. Nobody was over there trying to see the kind of car that you were driving. It was just all love, and it was all peace. And it was coming from a genuine place.

“It’s a place that’s relatively untapped in my culture, and I think going over there, you realize that we have a lot in common.”

Curry, also eyeing a return trip one day, joined Goodman and Sweetney for a Jewish National Fund USA-sponsored Zoom event titled “What on Earth Does Sports Have to do with Zionism?” on Sept. 29 to publicly share their exuberance for Israel. Moderated by nonprofit and financial services executive Eric Rubin, who in a few days was headed to Abu Dhabi to watch the Atlanta Hawks and other NBA teams play in exhibition games, the virtual panel discussion, part of the “Conversations on Zionism” series, touched on Goodman’s basketball camps, but really went into depth about Sweetney’s and Curry’s experiences this past summer.

Michael Sweetney

Of note, for Israeli youths obsessed with basketball, the NBA is not very accessible with games played at 3 a.m. thousands of miles away so having Sweetney’s and Curry’s presence was quite meaningful. Whether it was realizing that there is a boulevard in Jerusalem named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or coming across school-aged children playing sports without supervision in public parks in the wee hours of the morning, the former NBA veterans’ notions of Israel being an uncomfortable and dangerous place were quickly dispelled.

Speaking to the Atlanta Jewish Times shortly after the Zoom call, Curry acknowledged that “Ever since then, I was made aware that there’s a whole side of the world that I had no idea of. I was able to go down there and open my mind up and open my world up to something totally different.”

Thanks to social media, there may be quite a few more NBA stars of yesteryear making the journey.

“I’m pretty sure a handful of guys as of right now will definitely be heading over there at their earliest chance,” adds Curry, who was so invested in Goodman’s camp that one day he signed his sneakers as a gift for a couple campers, meaning he had to walk back to his hotel in socks.

Giving campers the shoes off his feet—it may seem like a silly thing, but it was a heartfelt gesture that reflected Curry’s sincere gratitude to the people of Israel for making him feel so at home.

read more: