As a 6″2 Jewish guy from Jersey, it was a pleasure to see Jordan Farmar lead the Nets to an overtime win Friday night against the LA Clippers. Farmar took control of the game in the second half, on his way to 24 points, 7 assists. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Farmar was money from downtown, shooting 5-11 from behind the arc on the night. After seeing the real “Jewish Jordan” lead his team to a win, I began to wonder, who are the best current Jewish players in the world. I now present, the All-Jewish Team.
Guard- Jordan Farmar (Captain) – After two marvelous seasons at UCLA, including one trip to the national championship in 2006, Farmar was a first round pick of the Lakers, becoming the first good Jewish NBA player since Danny Schayes retired in 1999. In his four years in Los Angeles, Farmar proved to be one of the NBA’s better backup point guards, providing strong playmaking and shooting for a Lakers team that made three appearances in the NBA Finals, including back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010. Currently with the Nets, Farmar brings a championship mentality to a Nets team that should thrust themselves into playoff competition next season after the acquisition of Deron Williams.
Born to a Jewish mother and raised by an Israeli step-father, there is no excuse for Farmar not to be more heavily recruited to play with Israel’s national team. With his leadership, playmaking and scoring ability, Farmar would prove an integral piece that would boost Israel’s chances of qualifying for the 2012 Olympics during this summer’s European Championship.
Guard – Yotam Halperin – Drafted by the Seattle Supersonics with the 53rd pick in the 2006 draft, Halperin is one of the most heralded Israeli basketball players. While Halperin has not yet made it to the NBA, he has experienced a great deal of success overseas. In 2008, his last season with Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Halperin was named to the All-Euro League second team. Halperin is currently in his 10th season in the Euro League, playing a key role on the Greek team, Olympiakos. As a fixture on the Israeli national team, Halperin has established himself as one of the greatest Israeli basketball players of all time.
Omri Casspi (Captain) – Forward – Bursting onto the scene last season, Casspi is widely regarded as the best Israeli basketball player ever, at the young age of 22 years old. While other Israelis before him have come close to making the NBA, Casspi displayed a great enough upside to warrant a first round selection, and a guaranteed contract by the Sacramento Kings. Casspi has not disappointed in his short NBA career, being named to the Rookie Team, in the Rookie Challenge during the 2010 NBA All-Star weekend.
While Casspi has already paved the way for future Israeli ballers to play in the NBA, he has an opportunity this summer to propel Israel to an Olympic birth. As a captain of the Israeli national team, he will be counted upon to provide scoring and leadership, to lead the team in the European Championships this summer. Hopefully, after two full seasons in the NBA, he will have figured out what it takes to lead Israel to an Olympic birth.
David Blu – Forward – Formerly known as David Bluthenthal, David officially changed his last name this summer to Blu, his nickname on Maccabi Tel Aviv. While Blu may have never played in an actual NBA game, he was featured in NBA Courtside 2 on the N64, before getting cut by the Sacramento Kings towards the end of the preseason. Casspi may be the first Jew to suit up for the Kings, however, Blu was the winner of the MVP in my personal season in “Courtside 2,” which cannot be said about any other Jewish player.
Blu showed an exceptional amount of toughness in the qualifiers for the European Championship in 2010, spending parts of games guarding centers despite only being listed at 6″7. Blu has a reputation as a deadly shooter, a tough player and an exceptional teammate, much like his college teammate Brian Scalabrine.
Lior Eliyahu – Center – While Eliyahu may be short for a Center at a shade under 6″10, he is one of the greatest big men in Israeli basketball history. Drafted by the Houston Rockets (via Orlando), Eliyahu possesses an array of moves around the basket, to go along with his soft shooting touch. While Eliyahu has not made the jump to the NBA, he has progressed greatly over the last five years while playing for Maccabi Tel-Aviv, including a one year stint with Caja Laboral last season.
While Eliyahu plays power forward and small forward for Maccabi Tel-Aviv, he is the starting center for the Israel National team. Though he may be undersized compared to opposing centers, his high basketball IQ and crafty moves inside, make him a difficult matchup for opposing defenses. Casspi may be regarded as the player who put Israeli basketball on the map, Eliyahu has made the greater impact in the Israeli League throughout his career.
Jon Scheyer- Guard – At 6″5, Scheyer has proven that he can handle both the point and shooting guard positions. Throughout his standout career at Duke, he played the most consecutive games of any player in Duke history, before he was named to the All-America first team his senior season. In 2005, Scheyer’s high school, Glenbrook North, was the only known team to win a state championship comprised of an all Jewish starting lineup. After failing to make the Clippers roster this season, Scheyer can be seen playing in the NBDL for the Rio Grande Vipers. At the young age of 23, a career in the NBA or Europe is surely ahead of this young Jewish star.
Dan Grunfeld – Guard/Forward – The starting wing man for Bnei Hasharon brings sharp shooting and a high basketball IQ to the Jewish squad. Grunfeld played for the prestigious Stanford program in the Pac-10, under coach Mike Montgomery and alongside arguably the greatest Afro in all of sports. Grunfeld has incredible patience on offense and is the type of player who tends to make good things happen when he is involved in a possession. A former champion at the Maccabia games, Grunfeld is in elite company as one of few Father/Son duos in the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, where he and his father, Ernie, stand alongside Dolph and Danny Schayes.
Yaniv Green – Forward/Center – A 12 year veteran of the Israeli League, Green provides size and skill to both Maccabi Tel Aviv and the Israel National team. In 2007, Green led the European Championship in rebounding, averaging 9.3 rebounds per game, for the Israeli squad.
Tal Burstein- Guard – At 6″6 Burstein is capable of playing both the point and shooting guard positions. At 31, Burstein has proven to be a dependable player for Maccabi Tel Aviv, as he has played with the team since 2000. Due to his exceptional three point shooting, Burstein should enjoy several more successful seasons with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Guy Pnini – Forward – A regular member of the Israeli National Team, Pnini has become one of the most dominant players in the Israeli League. Pnini has joined a talented Maccabi Tel-Aviv squad, where his numbers have dipped a little bit. However, at age 27, Pnini should be entering his prime just in time to help Israel fight for a spot in the 2012 Olympics.
Amit Tamir – Center – Tamir is the fourth member of the team to come out of the Pac-10, having a standout career at University of California. At 6″10, Tamir is the only true Center on the Jewish squad. Tamir currently plays for Hapoel Jerusalem, where he still brings the rebounding and toughness that put him in the national spotlight during college.
Just Missed The Cut
Sean Labanowski – While he has not played enough to make the cut, Maccabi Tel Aviv rookie Labanowski is a player to keep an eye on. Though he has not suited up for the Senior team yet, Labanowski recently was called up from the Maccabi Tel Aviv Junior team. At merely 18 years old, Labanowski has an opportunity to thrust himself into Jewish greatness in the near future.
Doron Perkins – As the starting point guard for Maccabi Tel Aviv, Perkins seemed like a lock for the squad. However, despite having the first name Doron, I could not find any indication that he was Jewish. While Perkins would have been a nice addition to the Jewish team, he will be perfectly fine suiting up alongside Carlos Boozer and Tradjan Langdon on the All-Anchorage, Alaska Team.
Derrick Sharp – As a 40 year old for Maccabi Tel Aviv, Sharp is one of Israeli basketballs most celebrated players. Aside from winning a record 27 different championships with Maccabi Tel Aviv, Sharp established himself as an Israeli legend when he hit an incredible buzzer shot to knock out Arvydas Sabonis in the 2004 Euro league playoffs. While Sharp has become Israeli to the core, he is not technically Jewish and unfortunately has to be left off the squad.
Amare Stoudemire – After visiting Israel this past summer, Stoudemire revealed that there is a possibility that his mother has some Jewish roots. If Amare were to either convert, or learn that he is in fact Jewish, he would become, by far, the best Jewish basketball player ever. While this would be neat for Jews all over the world, unfortunately, he has already played for the U.S. Senior National team, which would disqualify him for suiting up for Israel. However, if Amare steps it up over the last 20 games, and subsequently converts to Judaism, we may see the first Jewish NBA MVP.