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Basketball / Profile / The former ‘Jewish Jordan’ stays in the game

Tamir Goodman, who was the first Orthodox Jew to play Division I hoops and played in Israel until his 2009 retirement, discusses his work with Omri Casspi and his book on a spiritual approach to basketball.

By Raphael Gellar | Mar.01, 2013 | 5:27 AM
Goodman practicing after his arrival in Israel, in 2002.

Goodman practicing after his arrival in Israel, in 2002. Photo by Nir Keidar
Raphael Gellar

At one point, Tamir Goodman was ranked the 25th best high school player in the United States. Not bad for a kid from an Orthodox Jewish home who started his career at the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore.

By his junior year of high school, he was averaging a whopping 35.4 points per game and attracting college scouts from around the country. His unique story drew the attention of almost every sports media outlet; at one point, Goodman had over 700 interview requests. One such interview, in Sports Illustrated, crowned him the “Jewish Jordan,” a nickname he still hasn’t been able to shake.

Goodman was offered a full scholarship to play for the University of Maryland, one of the best teams in the nation at the time, but ultimately declined because a lot of their games were played on the Sabbath. He played instead for Towson, a smaller school that agreed to accommodate his observance.

After a year and a half at Towson, Goodman left not only the school, but the country: He moved to Israel and signed with the powerhouse basketball club Maccabi Tel Aviv. From 2002 to 2009, he played for a number of Israeli basketball teams and took time out for military service. While in the IDF, Goodman suffered a knee injury that would continue to haunt him for years to come, one of many injuries that piled up over the years and ultimately forced him to retire in 2009.

Since then, Goodman has kept active through a number of sports-related business ventures, public speaking and basketball clinics with Israeli basketball hero, and current Cleveland Cavaliers forward, Omri Casspi. Coming soon is a new book that Goodman wrote in which he reflects on his experience and shares his thoughts on approaching basketball from a physical, mental and spiritual perspective.

Haaretz spoke with Goodman, who lives in Cleveland, about life post-retirement, his love for the game and why, despite the possibility of winning an NCAA championship, he doesn’t regret any of his choices.

What has it been like to work with Casspi? “After Omri got traded to Cleveland, we were able to meet up and partner in creating basketball camps. Our camps that we have had up to date have been very successful. We are going to have a camp this summer in New Jersey from June 30-July 4 and in Boston from 4 July 7-11. It is amazing because the kids love basketball so much and they get a chance to work with an Israeli NBA player who is so committed to inspiring them and helping them reach their potential on and off the court. I wish I had the opportunity to work with an Israeli NBA player growing up, it has been a great blessing to be a part of it.”

You have a new company called Sport Strings tzitzit, can you tell us about it? “The customers have been especially positive. We were featured as one of NPR’s most recommended future holiday gifts this holiday season, which was really nice to be acknowledged by such a powerhouse. We handed out 8,000 pairs of tzizit to soldiers during the last war [Operation Pillar of Defense] and we have been hearing that the soldiers want more, so that is great!”

Your new book “Jewish Jordan’s Triple Threat” is coming out in a few weeks, what exactly is it about?

“The book is about the triple threat stance, which is a basketball stance where you stand in a position where you can shoot, dribble or pass. I take those three basketball components and explain them on a physical, mental and spiritual level as well as include stories from my life to highlight these points. The book really helps athletes become a complete player where they understand the game physically, they understand what is expected from them mentally and then also spiritually; how to play for a higher purpose and not just to play for your own ego and how that can help you in your life. It is going to be published by Diversion Books which is a leading E-book company and the people who have read it so far have given overwhelmingly positive reviews.”

What is it like balancing touring the country while also having to be a father? “It’s very, very hard. We just try to find the best balance possible for being there for my family and being able to inspire as many people as possible. Whenever I go somewhere, I try my best to reach as many people as possible. I believe that my book and other projects will help do that without having to travel as much. This weekend, I am speaking at around 12 different locations so that I can speak to as many people as possible and I don’t have to travel that much.”

Do you regret not attending University of Maryland? “The way I look at it, every year there is a new basketball champion and every year a championship team gets crowned a ring. I could have been a part of that championship team [Maryland won the NCAA Championship in 2002] if I decided to play on the Sabbath. But you know what? When the Shabbat ring is the same ring that the Jewish people have been wearing for thousands years and that is always going to be a part of us, I am glad that I chose that ring over the championship ring because the championship ring gets switched every year and the ring I stayed committed to is the ultimate ring that does not change. Basketball was such a big part of my life, I couldn’t imagine playing on Shabbat. For me Shabbat was a spiritual day to be thankful and I am glad that ultimately I was able to make history by being the first Orthodox Division I basketball player to not play on Shabbat and I am so thankful to Towson for that.”

How did you continue to battle back from all of your serious injuries?

“I always felt like it wasn’t just about me, it was something bigger than myself. I felt like who am I to quit? It wasn’t about me and because of that I was able to return from three career ending injuries. In 2009 when I couldn’t play anymore, I missed the game, I loved the game, I gave 1000 percent my whole career but I knew it was time to quit because I could barely walk up the stairs. On the other hand I learned so much from my injuries. I learned how to be a sensitive person and a creative person. It gave me a whole unique angle on how can I use basketball to help other people without having to play and that is how I have developed my non-profit organization and all the projects I am involved in. I wouldn’t be able to do all those things had I not gone through what I had gone through. By being positive about all my injuries it opened up a new life for me.”

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