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Basketball has been graced by numerous talented players over the years, from different backgrounds, cultures, and religions. Among them, Jewish basketball players have made significant contributions to the sport, leaving a lasting impact on its history. This article will explore the most significant Jewish basketball players and their achievements, from pioneers like Dolph Schayes to modern-day stars like Omri Casspi.
- Dolph Schayes (1928-2015)
Dolph Schayes is often considered one of the greatest Jewish basketball players of all time. Born in New York City, Schayes played college basketball at New York University and was drafted by the Syracuse Nationals (now the Philadelphia 76ers) in 1948. A versatile forward/center, Schayes was a 12-time NBA All-Star and led the Nationals to their first and only NBA Championship in 1955. He scored over 19,000 points and grabbed more than 11,000 rebounds in his 16-season career. Schayes was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1973 and named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996.
- Red Holzman (1920-1998)
William “Red” Holzman was a successful player and coach, making significant contributions to the development of professional basketball. Born in Brooklyn, Holzman played college basketball at the City College of New York before being drafted by the Rochester Royals in 1945. As a player, Holzman won an NBA Championship with the Royals in 1951. However, it was as a coach that he truly left his mark on the sport. Holzman coached the New York Knicks to two NBA Championships in 1970 and 1973, employing a team-oriented style of play known as “hit the open man.” He was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a coach in 1986.
- Max Zaslofsky (1925-1985)
Max Zaslofsky, born in Brooklyn, was another prominent Jewish basketball player in the early days of the NBA. A skilled guard, Zaslofsky played college basketball at St. John’s University before being drafted by the Chicago Stags in 1946. He was an All-Star in 1952 and led the league in scoring during the 1947-48 season. Zaslofsky also played for the New York Knicks and the Fort Wayne Pistons (now the Detroit Pistons) before retiring in 1956. He later became a coach and was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.
- Dave Newmark (1946-)
Dave Newmark was a skilled center who played college basketball at Columbia University, where he was a two-time All-Ivy League selection. After being drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1968, Newmark had a brief but impactful NBA career, averaging 5.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game over two seasons. He later played for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel, helping the team win the Israeli League Championship in 1971.
- Danny Schayes (1959-)
Following in his father’s footsteps, Danny Schayes had a successful NBA career that spanned 18 seasons. Born in Syracuse, New York, Schayes played college basketball at Syracuse University before being drafted by the Utah Jazz in 1981. A skilled center, Schayes averaged 7.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game over his career, playing for several teams, including the Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Los Angeles Lakers.
- Ernie Grunfeld (1955-)
Ernie Grunfeld, born in Satu Mare, Romania, emigrated to the United States with his family and became a standout basketball player. He attended Forest Hills High School in Queens, New York, before playing college basketball at the University of Tennessee. Grunfeld was a two-time All-American and a member of the 1977 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year. He was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1977 and played for the Kansas City Kings and New York Knicks during his nine-year NBA career. After retiring as a player, Grunfeld moved into management, serving as general manager for the Knicks and later the Washington Wizards.
- Tamir Goodman (1982-)
Tamir Goodman, dubbed the “Jewish Jordan” by Sports Illustrated, was a highly touted high school basketball player who played college basketball at Towson University. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Goodman was an Orthodox Jew who gained attention for his on-court prowess while adhering to Jewish customs, such as wearing a yarmulke during games and observing the Sabbath. Though he never played in the NBA, Goodman played professionally in Israel, becoming a role model for young Jewish athletes.
- Jordan Farmar (1986-)
Jordan Farmar is a talented point guard who played college basketball at UCLA before being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2006. Born in Los Angeles, Farmar is of Jewish and African-American descent. He won two NBA Championships with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010 and played for several other NBA teams, including the New Jersey Nets and Memphis Grizzlies. Farmar also played internationally, representing Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel and winning the Israeli League Championship in 2012.
- Omri Casspi (1988-)
Omri Casspi is a talented forward who became the first Israeli player to be drafted and play in the NBA. Born in Holon, Israel, Casspi played for Maccabi Tel Aviv before being drafted by the Sacramento Kings in 2009. Known for his shooting and versatility, Casspi played for several NBA teams, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. He also represented Israel in international competitions and won multiple Israeli League Championships with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
- Gal Mekel (1988-)
Gal Mekel is an Israeli point guard who played college basketball at Wichita State University before signing with the Dallas Mavericks in 2013. Mekel became the second Israeli player to play in the NBA, following Omri Casspi. Though his NBA career was brief, Mekel has had a successful international career, playing for several European teams and representing Israel in international competitions.
The history of basketball is filled with talented Jewish players who have made a significant impact on the sport. From pioneers like Dolph Schayes and Red Holzman to modern-day stars like Omri Casspi and Jordan Farmar, these athletes have helped shape the game and serve as role models for future generations of Jewish basketball players. Their contributions to the sport, both on and off the court, will be remembered for years to come