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The Daily Orange: Athlete reflects on basketball career, conservative Jewish faith

Tamir goodman, known as the Jewish Jordan, displays a self-designed athletic shirt with tzitzits during his talk Sunday afternoon.

Chase Gaewski | Photo Editor

Tamir goodman, known as the Jewish Jordan, displays a self-designed athletic shirt with tzitzits during his talk Sunday afternoon.

Published April 22, 2013 at 12:25 am

While playing at a prestigious basketball camp in high school, Tamir Goodman got attention for all of the wrong reasons.

Goodman, an observant Jew, got strange looks for wearing a yarmulke and tzitzit while he played, but didn’t receive attention from top coaches. Then, on the third day of camp, pouring rain canceled every game except for the indoor game Goodman’s team was playing in.

At the beginning of the game, Goodman grabbed a rebound, took one dribble and made a pass behind his back to a teammate across the court. His teammate dunked the ball and the crowd erupted.

“I think that was the first time people stopped looking at me as a total stranger and said ‘You know what, maybe he can be a basketball player,’” Goodman said.

Goodman, known as the Jewish Jordan, spoke to a handful of students at the Schine Student Center at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday about his basketball career and how it related to his Jewish faith.

Soon after the camp, Goodman committed to the University of Maryland as a junior on a full athletic scholarship. But he had one condition — he wouldn’t play during Sabbath, a time of rest and worship from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday for those of the Jewish faith.

Maryland promised it could accommodate this, and Goodman was soon flooded with more than 700 media requests. A picture of him with a Jewish prayer book was even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline, “The Jewish Jordan.”

But then, Maryland coaches told Goodman he would have to play during the Sabbath if he still wanted to play there. Goodman turned down the scholarship offer. Maryland went on to win the national championship that year.

He was eventually recruited by Towson University, which promised to alter its whole schedule for him. But Goodman still had to make sacrifices during his first season, including missing most of his team’s tournament run.

After his first year at Towson, his head coach was fired and replaced by a coach who did not respect Goodman’s beliefs and scheduled games during Sabbath. The situation reached a boiling point when the coach threw a chair at Goodman in the locker room.

Unable to stay at Towson, he signed a contract to play professional basketball in Israel. Early in the season, Goodman was traded from the best team in the league to one of the worst. But it was there Goodman met his wife, who had also turned down college scholarships to observe the Sabbath.

“I think sometimes, if we work with what we have instead of thinking of what we don’t have, ultimately, we can find our biggest blessings that way,” he said.

After spending a year in the Israeli army, he tried to play professional basketball in Israel again, but struggled with a knee injury. He eventually found his way back to the United States, where he played a season under former Syracuse basketball player Lawrence Moten in the Premier Basketball League.He retired a year later at the age of 27 after badly injuring his hand.

“You can’t really inspire anybody or help anybody if you’re always tasting success,” he said. “Through my injuries, it made me much more sensitive and much more creative.”

Goodman used this creativity to write a book and make a DVD about positive coaching. He also helped make a sweat-wicking shirt with tzitzits that is used by the Israeli army and given to basketball clinics across the country.

Said Goodman: “I really feel like I’ve been on this amazing journey, thank God, and the most important thing that I learned is that each person is special, each person has their own blessings and the ultimate way is to give back.”

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