The Jewish Jordan’s Triple Threat: Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Lessons From The Court
By Tamir Goodman and Judy Horowitz Goodman
New York, 2013
84 pages (also available as an e-book)
Reviewed by Dov Kramer
One of my favorite movies from my teenage years was Airplane! One of the notable scenes (and surely there were many, but please don’t call me Shirley) was when the stewardess distributed reading material to the passengers. To comply with a request for some “light reading,” she suggested a leaflet titled “Famous Jewish Sports Legends,” and, illustrating the dearth of Jewish athletes, handed the passenger what looks like an 8½-by-11 inch sheet of paper folded in thirds. I was reminded of this scene when I opened the big yellow manila envelope the book under review was sent to me in, only to find what seemed like a pamphlet, as small as a pocket book (5-by-8 inch) and not much thicker than this magazine.
I have always been uncomfortable with the notion of an athlete being associated with his or her religion; once he gets onto the court or playing field, we should marvel at his performance, not his lineage. Does anyone really want to be thought of, professionally speaking, in terms of anything other than the quality of his work?
Tamir Goodman was (and is) an exception. He was very cognizant of his being associated with his heritage, embraced it and made representing his people a primary goal. And although it can be troubling that star athletes are considered heroes, looking up to someone who refused to play any games on Shabbat—no matter what—and always wore his kippa, both on and off the court, can have a very positive impact.
For those unaware of the excitement Tamir created in some segments of the Orthodox community, he was considered one of the twenty-five best high school basketball players in the country (coast to coast) while still a junior at Baltimore Talmudical Academy. His exploits on the court were chronicled not just in the Jewish media, but in the mainstream secular media as well, where he was nicknamed “the Jewish Jordan” (after one of the premier players—if not the premier player—in NBA history, Michael Jordan). Tamir’s story is retold in spurts throughout the book, in autobiographical style. Although the book was co-written with his wife (she is not identified as such, but is pictured with captions of “my wife, Judy” and as the co-author), his perspective on having to leave his frum high school before his senior year, not being able to attend the college he thought he would because of his Shabbat observance, being asked to become a play-maker rather than the scorer he always was, how he dealt with fan reactions (both friendly and hostile) and the injuries that ended his playing career, are all given in the first person. It is an interesting story, and those who remember Tamir’s trials and tribulations and want to know what he was thinking during these episodes will appreciate the insights he shares.
His exploits on the court were chronicled not just in the Jewish media, but in the mainstream secular media as well, where he was nicknamed “the Jewish Jordan.”
As interesting and inspiring as his story might be, it is likely better served as a feature article than as a book. However, as its title and subtitle promises, there are really three “books” rolled into one. Each chapter has three parts to it: Tamir’s story, basketball advice and tips on how to prepare for games—and by extension, life—mentally. (The term “spirituality” is used several times, referring to being motivated by a purpose greater than the game itself.) The basketball advice is distributed almost like a “Basketball Training for Dummies” manual, with specific tips and drills for becoming a better player. The drills are intended for serious (young) players only, but some of the tips are basic enough to help any beginner start to develop properly. (Some of them I remember from when my dad, who was a high school hoops star himself at Baltimore Talmudical Academy, coached my team in high school.) The third part reads the way I envision any generic self-help book would, dispensing what seems like relatively obvious suggestions that might otherwise be overlooked by some when actually faced with a situation where such advice should be followed. The three parts are often intermingled, and without a real appreciation for and understanding of the game of basketball and its nuances, the subtleties, wherein lie the true value of the synthesis of these parts, will be lost. Uneven at times, each of the three parts has something to contribute, although maybe not to every reader.
A few generations ago, it was fairly common for Orthodox Jews to be faced with the choice of either keeping Shabbat or keeping their job. (My grandfather, a”h, was one of those who had to find a new job every week.) A couple of generations ago, the norm was not to wear a yarmulka to work. In every generation, it is a challenge to imbue seemingly mundane activities and professions with a higher purpose. Tamir Goodman had the resolve to keep Shabbat, even if it endangered his basketball dreams, setting a positive example for others who might be faced with a similar dilemma. He was the only one on the court who had a yarmulka as part of his uniform, showing the world that he was proud to be a Jew on Shabbat and during the rest of the week as well. He has dedicated his life to a higher purpose, using his basketball skills on and off the court (by coaching and running basketball camps) to help others be as proud to be Jewish as he is. Writing this book and sharing his story is another way that Tamir, and his wife, Judy, are working toward accomplishing this goal.
Rabbi Dov Kramer is an executive producer at WFAN, the nation’s first all-sports radio station, and a cofounder of The Clifton Cheder.
Listen to Tamir Goodman discuss his new book at ou.org/jewishjordan.