Omri Casspi playing for the Sacramento Kings in a game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Nov. 18, 2015. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

NBA’s Omri Casspi traded to New Orleans Pelicans


Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the National Basketball Association, was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans from the Sacramento Kings.

The deal announced Monday was part of a blockbuster five-player trade that had All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and Casspi heading to New Orleans, ESPN reported Sunday. Sacramento receives Buddy Hield, a first-round draft pick in 2016, as well as Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2017 second-round pick, according to the report.

Casspi joined the Kings in 2009 and played there for two years, when he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he played for two years, spending much of his time on the bench.  He spent a year with the Houston Rockets and then was traded to the Pelicans, who put him on waivers, where he was again picked up by the Kings.

Casspi played with the championship Maccabi Tel Aviv team in Israel before making himself available for the 2008 NBA draft.

The 6-foot-9 Casspi has been playing about 19 minutes per game this season, averaging 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds. New Orleans hosted the All-Star Game over the weekend.

Sitting shivah for Grantland


Human beings get attached to all kinds of things. We have our favorite cafes, our favorite parks, our favorite shows, our favorite people. Take them away and something inside of us dies.

I lost my favorite website this past week, Grantland.

Grantland was a quirky, literary, sports and pop-culture site that belonged to ESPN, the giant sports network that pulled the plug. Thankfully, the archives will remain online, so Grantland junkies like myself can occasionally reminisce and revisit great stories, like a Civil War buff might revisit a famous war site.

Grantland was the brainchild of Bill Simmons, a longtime sportswriter from Boston who loved sports and pop culture in equal measure. Although he’s a diehard Celtics fan and I’m a diehard Lakers fan, I was addicted to the breezy intimacy of his sports columns. He wrote these long pieces that went off on humorous tangents, mixing deep knowledge of his subject with pop analogies and personal references. He was like an expert jazz musician, jamming away and enjoying himself, while we inhaled every note. His podcast was similarly intimate and addictive.

Although he’s a diehard Celtics fan and I’m a diehard Lakers fan, I was addicted to the breezy intimacy of his sports columns.

Simmons intuitively understood that sports and pop culture are both part of that same package we call “entertainment.” It’s not the part of our lives that worries about climate change, peace in the Middle East or paying our medical bills. It’s more like what recess was in grade school — a break from the serious and the tedious.

Although they look and feel different — sports is real-life competition with clear winners and losers; pop culture is the product of our imaginations — both can inspire us and bring us pleasure. We consume the brilliance of “Breaking Bad” just as we consume the brilliance of LeBron James.

Still, there’s a reason why you rarely see a hybrid site like Grantland. Culture junkies and sports junkies are often not the same people. It’s a lot easier to create niche sites for each crowd. Grantland broke the mold by being a hard-core site for both crowds. On its elegant and lively home page, you could see an erudite critique of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel featured right next to a 3,000-word analysis of why the Golden State Warriors offense is so lethal. 

Simmons, of course, is not the “niche” type. His site was a reflection of his deep attachment to all kinds of entertainment. It’s poignant that his contribution to the world he so loves was to cover it in a way that would be entertaining in its own right. He wanted the coverage of a show to be just as quirky and delightful as the show itself.

This is where Grantland really broke the mold — redefining how a culture site entertains. Instead of settling for popular, traffic-chasing gimmicks such as top-10 lists and juicy headlines, Grantland entertained with irreverent and literary prose. It celebrated long-form features, not Twitter-happy items. It hired talented writers who brought sophistication to mass entertainment, without being elitist. It was like watching Wolfgang Puck create the world’s best hamburger. Slowly.

No subject was immune to this ethos. Here is Grantland staff writer and author Brian Phillips on the pro wrestler Andre the Giant: 

“You open in rural France in the late 1950s. Andre at 12 is the size of a large adult. The driver has banned him from the school bus, so to get to class he depends on rides from a neighbor, Samuel Beckett, who has a truck. Yes, that Samuel Beckett. You can be the author of ‘Waiting for Godot.’ It’s still useful to have a truck. By his early twenties, Andre is working as a mover in Paris, toting refrigerators by himself. He gets noticed by wrestling promoters. Of course he does, a kid that size, with his crooked grin and those hazy piles of black hair.”

This kind of sophistication was a breath of fresh air from the macho swagger that colors so much of sports reporting, or the newsy gossip that colors so much of pop-culture reporting. Ironically, without resorting to the usual tricks of the trade, Grantland at its height was able to attract close to 7 million unique visitors a month.

But never mind all that. Today, Grantland is no more.

It’s clear that Simmons’s bosses at ESPN didn’t share his passion for his creation. After they decided not to renew his contract last May, it was just a matter of time before they would lose interest and shut down the site. I don't buy the excuse that the site was not profitable. A multibillion-dollar juggernaut like ESPN could certainly afford to support a site that adds so much prestige to its brand, or at least use its enormous sales leverage to make the site profitable. 

My gut is that ESPN killed Grantland because the very idea of the site was too subtle for its taste. ESPN has made its billions by sticking to sports and serving it up in a generally predictable way. Given that ESPN admitted a discomfort with covering pop culture, it’s telling that they couldn’t even bring themselves to keep the sports side of Grantland, which in itself would have been a breakthrough site.

In the end, as good as Simmons was, he was probably always doomed to leave the network because the man and his ideas are anything but predictable. Now that he’s at HBO, maybe he can get me addicted again.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

How to cut the cord on your cable bill


Until recently, the idea of cutting the cord on your cable television service was absolutely unheard of. How else could you watch your favorite programs? But more and more people are saying goodbye to cable — 6.5 percent of households in the United States stopped paying for cable in the last year, according to Experian Marketing — and the number is increasing.

It’s no wonder. The market research and consumer tracking company the NPD Group estimates that the average cable bill in America is $123 a month, and it’s been going up almost 10 percent each year. 

But how viable is life without cable? Sure, there are more and more streaming services that provide television content, but can you still watch all the shows you want? How do you watch live news and sports? And do you really save much money by cutting the cord?

Six months ago, that’s just what I did — I cancelled my cable subscription with Time Warner. I was paying $100 a month for cable (and another $70 a month for high-speed Internet, which I still have). That $100 bill was for basic cable and did not include HBO or Showtime. 

To help you decide if giving up cable is right for you, I’ve outlined some of the main alternatives available, including the equipment you’ll need to purchase. 

Digital antenna

Streaming media player

Hulu Plus

Hulu Plus allows you to watch current programs from ABC, NBC, FOX and The CW the day after they air for $7.99 a month. It also offers programming from cable channels like Comedy Central and FX. (Note that CBS isn’t on the list –— the network offers its own streaming service.) For an extra $4, you can watch the shows without commercials. Hulu Plus is also now offering a Showtime upgrade for $8.99 more a month, so you can get your fix of “Homeland” and “Ray Donovan” without having cable.

Amazon Prime

I originally subscribed to Amazon Prime for $99 a year to get the free two-day shipping. The television programming was an added bonus. Amazon Prime has become a producer of prestigious original content, such as the series “Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle.” Amazon Prime also lets you watch TV shows by purchasing episodes or entire seasons a la carte, which are available the day after they air on cable. Because I don’t have the Lifetime channel anymore, I can still watch “Project Runway” by buying the season for $18.99. It’s cheaper than having a cable subscription. And there are no commercials!

HBO Now

HBO made headlines this year when it announced that you would no longer need a cable provider to get access to its programming. With HBO Now, you can watch all of the premium channel’s original movies and shows for $14.99 a month. Currently, HBO Now is compatible only with Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Chromecast, so if you have only Roku or a Smart TV, you will need to buy an additional device.

Sling TV

Netflix

Netflix isn’t technically a cable replacement. With its slate of original programming including “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black,” even those with cable subscribe to Netflix. Still, most cord cutters have included Netflix in their bundle of streaming services because of its binge-watching possibilities.

My Total Bill

In addition to the free network shows I receive via digital antenna, I subscribe to Hulu Plus with the no-commercials upgrade ($11.99), Amazon Prime ($8.25) and HBO Now ($14.99). Not including the antennas and streaming player I’ve had to buy, which are one-time fixed costs, I now spend just over $35 a month on my television subscriptions. That’s a savings of $65 a month, or $780 a year. Even if I add some a la carte programs and movies to the mix, the savings are substantial. 

Is cutting the cord right for you? That really depends on your own viewing habits. If you were to subscribe to every streaming service available, it might not be any cheaper than cable. Still, it’s good to know your options, and as the popularity of streaming grows, those options are only going to get better.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Curt Shilling compares Muslims to Nazis and gets suspended from ESPN


As one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball for nearly 20 years, Curt Schilling didn’t make many errors. On Tuesday, however, he admitted that he made a costly one.

The three-time World Series champion on Tuesday morning tweeted an image of Hitler against a dark blood-red background that compared modern Muslims to the German population under Hitler. Schilling deleted the tweet shortly after posting it.

“It’s said that only 5-10% of Muslims are extremists,” the graphic read. “In 1940, only 7% of Germans were Nazis. How’d that go?”

Schilling added in his own accompanying text: “The math is staggering when you get to true #’s.”

Schilling, who has been a live game analyst for ESPN since 2010, was immediately suspended from his current assignment broadcasting games at the Little League World Series.

“Curt’s tweet was completely unacceptable, and in no way represents our company’s perspective,” ESPN said in a written statement. “We made that point very strongly to Curt and have removed him from his current Little League assignment pending further consideration.”

The former All-Star has not issued an official apology but responded apologetically to several tweets and tweeted: “I understand and accept my suspension. 100% my fault. Bad choices have bad consequences and this was a bad decision in every way on my part.”

Schilling, a self-described conservative and born-again Christian, claimed back in January that he did not get voted into the Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility because he’s a Republican.

“I know that as a Republican that there’s some people that really don’t like that,” he told Boston radio WEEI. “When human beings do something, anything, there’s bias and prejudice.”

Schilling has also engaged in controversial Twitter dialogue before, most notably questioning the theory of evolution in November of last year.

Schilling played 19 seasons for five different teams and won World Series championships with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and 2007. He was a six-time All-Star and has the best postseason record of all-time for a pitcher with at least 10 playoff decisions.

Sports programs can score big for Jewish day schools


To understand the place of athletics at a Jewish day school, attend a recruitment open house and watch the children’s eyes. As they listen to the descriptions or tour the stations set up to display the school’s programs and activities, look for the moments when the spark of connection appears.

After more than a decade as a faculty member at New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) in West Hills, and 20 years prior to that at other independent schools in Los Angeles, I’ve seen those eyes light up most dependably for athletics and performing arts. Whether there is a wall covered with championship banners or tables topped with theater costumes, prospective students and their parents are drawn to these elements more earnestly — and more dependably — than any other school endeavor, including core academics.

I cannot carry a tune or dance a step, so I won’t discuss the role of drama, dance and singing in this process. But I have been involved for nearly half a century in team sports, coaching all sorts of high school teams since 1977. I was also a founding member of the NCJHS faculty who participated in its growth from 40 students in 2002 to nearly 400 today, so I can try to explain the importance of athletics to a Jewish day school’s success.

What do sports teams offer such a school? Students! And for a Jewish day school’s recruitment efforts, the students who have the most to gain — from the perspective of Jewish engagement and learning — are the ones for whom extracurriculars such as athletics (and performing arts) are key spurs to enrollment.

After all, it’s a relatively simple matter to recruit students from families who are committed to Jewish day-school education. They are choosing among a limited number of options. And their children are more likely to have a strong initial connection to Jewish life and background in Jewish learning.

Sports and performing arts appear to be more important in the choices of families who are choosing between Jewish day schools and their secular competitors, whether private, public, charter or non-Jewish religious schools. These are often the families whose children ultimately will experience the greatest boost in their Jewish engagement by virtue of attending a Jewish day school. To them, these extracurricular programs promise to vouchsafe the Jewish day-school experience as a choice that will be comparable to that offered elsewhere.

For schools, these are high-stakes issues. In many respects, spending on athletics and performing arts could be considered recruitment expenses rather than program expenses, as the extra-curricular activities are essential to the schools’ ability to match up with their non-Jewish competitors with whom they are already equal in the academic domain. 

A couple of anecdotes from NCJHS’ early history illuminate the nature of this recruiting competition. In the school’s second year, when there were only ninth- and 10th-grade students, the boys lacrosse team defeated its rival counterpart, the Harvard-Westlake junior varsity team. After the post-game handshake, one of the opposing team’s boys was overheard saying, “I can’t believe we just lost to a bunch of Jews.” Before any of us could respond, one of his teammates gave him a shove and said, “You idiot, we’re a bunch of Jews.” 

A couple of years later, after a one-sided varsity loss to Chaminade College Preparatory, the winning coach attempted to console me by saying that if his Jewish players had been on the NCJHS team, the result would have been much closer. 

Neither comment reflected anti-Jewish feeling — only the stereotypical notion that Jewish schools cannot be competitive in athletics. The walls of Jewish day schools that are now covered with championship banners put the lie to that notion. And anyone who has doubts about the intensity of commitment to sports at Jewish day schools has not tried to squeeze into the Westside Jewish Community Center gym to attend a YULA post-Havdalah basketball game.

My former colleagues at NCJHS, Rabbi Benjamin Resnick and Bruce Powell, wrote powerfully in these pages in 2010 about the opportunity athletics provide for inculcating Jewish values. They described how athletics do more than act as an opportunity for physical and mental fitness; tthey provide a safe environment in which Jewish values and ethics can be translated into actions. A sports program “allows thinkers to become doers,” they wrote. 

Their explanation of the central role of athletics in Jewish education does not have an easy path to acceptance. Years ago, I once scolded a rabbi who was disdainful of athletics in a confessedly snarky comment, claiming perhaps somewhat exaggeratedly that I had presided over more Jewish boys’ passages to manhood on the lacrosse field than had occurred at the bimah of his synagogue.

None of this should lead to the conclusion that to be successful at competing with non-Jewish schools, Jewish day schools need to accept the fantasies peddled by ESPN and bought into by deluded parents that school athletics will prepare their children to “play at the next level.” For many this is valid, but the rosters of college intramural teams are filled with former high school all-stars. 

But if you look at Hillel chapters, Jewish communal housing units, fraternities and sororities with predominantly Jewish memberships — not to mention Jewish organizations such as StandWithUs or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — you’ll find many Jewish day-school graduates who initially had the choice of a Jewish or a non-Jewish school. For many, the athletics (and performing arts) offerings of those Jewish day schools led to the decision to enroll. And that — the exposure to a Judaic curriculum that can create such profound Jewish engagement — has made all the difference, not just for the students themselves but for the entire community.


Neil Kramer is dean of faculty emeritus at New Community Jewish High School, where he taught history and government and coached boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse and golf.

Hillary, helmets, ‘Crossfire’ and cash


Money, they say, is the mother’s milk of politics.  Also of news, sports and the rest of the entertainment industry.  Three recent stories drive that home. 

When Reince Priebus pressured Comcast’s NBC to drop a miniseries starring Diane Lane as Hillary Clinton, the hostage that the RNC chairman threatened to snuff was the network’s access to the 2016 presidential primary debates.  When the NFL forced Disney’s ESPN to pull out of a documentary about concussions jointly produced with PBS’s Frontline, the league’s leverage was its deal with Disney’s ABC to air Monday Night Football.  And when Time Warner’s CNN hired Newt Gingrich for its exhumed edition of Crossfire, its motive wasn’t political journalism in service of democracy; it was stunt casting in service of ratings.

On the surface, the fight between the GOP and NBC is about the effects of media on audiences.  The party’s presumption – based on no evidence – is that the miniseries would put Clinton in a favorable light, and – also based on no evidence – that the halo would translate into votes.  But if a movie could do that, then John Glenn, heroically portrayed in the 1983 movie The Right Stuff, would have been the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee.  The real issue here isn’t the impact of entertainment on audiences, it’s the coup that took presidential debates out of the hands of citizens and handed them to party hacks. 

Once upon a time, groups like the League of Women Voters sponsored the debates, and all cameras were welcome to cover them.  But starting in 1988, the Democratic and Republican parties “>in reality they’ve been run by “>has reported, ESPN’s turnabout came a week after a heated lunch between Roger Goodell, commissioner of the N.F.L., and John Skipper, ESPN’s president.  For more than a year, the ground rules covering editorial authority had been working just fine; Frontline and ESPN each had control over what each aired.  PBS and ESPN executives had even “>giving a certifiable demagogue like Newt Gingrich a regular seat at its table.

When Jon Stewart appeared on Crossfire in 2004, he was the guest from hell.  “Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America,” he told its then hosts, Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala.  “I’m here to confront you, because we need help from the media, and they’re hurting us…. I would love to see a debate show,” he said, but calling Crossfire a debate show was “like saying pro wrestling is a show about athletic competition…. You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably…. I watch your show every day.  And it kills me… It’s so – oh, it’s so painful to watch…. Please, I beg of you guys, please…. Please stop.”  martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Braun said specimen collector was anti-Semite to drum up support in ’12


Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun during his appeal of a drug suspension in 2012 told players on opposing teams that the collector of his urine sample was an anti-Semite.

Braun, the son of an Israeli-born Jewish father, was suspended in July for the remainder of this season for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Agreement for his connection to the Biogenesis clinic, which provided performance-enhancing drugs to more than a dozen players.

The 2011 Most Valuable Player had been suspended in 2012 for using performance-enhancing drugs, but successfully appealed the 50-game ban and denied he ever used PEDs.

Braun called at least three veteran players to lobby for their support ahead of his appeal of the 2012 suspension, ESPN reported.

He won the appeal after proving that the specimen collector, identified as Dino Laurenzi Jr., broke the chain of custody of the sample by storing it in his refrigerator and not sending it out for 44 hours.

According to ESPN, Braun in  his calls to the players also said Laurenzi was a Chicago Cubs fan, a division rival of the Brewers, implying that the sample collector would be working against Braun.

Braun has been referred to as “The Hebrew Hammer.” His mother, Diane, a Catholic, has said, “He’s totally not Jewish.”

“I heard some organization started called him ‘The Hebrew Hammer.’ I said, ‘Oh no.’ My mother would be rolling over in her grave if she heard that.”

Syracuse fires basketball coach Bernie Fine amid sex probe


Syracuse University fired assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine amid allegations that he sexually molested boys, rocking the multi-million dollar world of collegiate sports with more questions of sexual abuse and oversight, the university said on Sunday.

“At the direction of Chancellor (Nancy) Cantor, Bernie Fine’s employment with Syracuse University has been terminated, effective immediately,” the school said on its website.

Fine, who had been on administrative leave since Nov. 17, is the target of a grand jury investigation into accusations that years ago he molested a former ball boy, Bobby Davis, now 39, and at least one other boy, his stepbrother Mike Lang, now 45, when they were juveniles.

Fine’s boss for the past 35 years, Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, said on Sunday he supported the firing, withdrawing support he’d extended Fine when the allegations resurfaced this month. The university first investigated and dismissed the allegations for lack of corroboration in 2005.

“I have never witnessed any of the activities that have been alleged,” Boeheim said in a statement posted on the Syracuse Orange sports Facebook page.

“What is most important is that this matter be fully investigated,” he said. ” … I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse,” he said.

The firing came hours after ESPN reported it had an audio recording of a 2002 conversation between Davis and Fine’s wife Laurie in which she said she knew about the alleged molestation but felt unable to stop it.

Neither the tape nor any additional witnesses surfaced when the university conducted its own 2005 investigation into Davis’ allegations, Cantor said in a statement on the school website.

Now that a new probe is underway by Syracuse Police, the school has hired an independent law firm to “review our procedures in responding to the initial allegations. … We need to learn all we can from this terrible lesson,” she said.

Fine has called the accusations against him “patently false in every aspect.”

LATEST JOLT

The firing was the latest jolt to major college athletics already reeling from allegations of abuse and possible cover-ups at football powerhouse Penn State, where a former assistant coach faces 40 sexual abuse charges.

Those accusations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, charged by a grand jury with sexually abusing eight young boys, took down legendary football coach Joe Paterno and school president Graham Spanier.

They were fired for failing to tell police about the allegations of abuse once they learned of it years earlier. Two other Penn State officials were charged with perjury.

Syracuse is the third major American university to disclose alleged abuse since the school year began. South Carolina military college The Citadel also said it had failed to tell police about a student accused in 2007 of inappropriate behavior with children at a college summer camp.

In Syracuse, police have said they opened an investigation into Fine when Davis’ stepbrother came forward with his own allegations. The grand jury is also investigating those allegations but no criminal charges have been filed.

Fine’s lawyer, speaking on Sunday before he was fired, said his client would no longer speak publicly about the case.

“Mr. Fine will not comment on newspaper stories beyond his initial statement,” attorney Karl Sleight said in a statement in response to allegations by a third accuser, Zach Tomaselli, made on Facebook and carried in media reports on Sunday.

“Mr. Fine remains hopeful of a credible and expeditious review of the relevant issues by law enforcement authorities,” Sleight said. Attempts to reach Syracuse police and city officials on Sunday for further comment were unsuccessful.

Syracuse’s basketball team is currently undefeated and the university in upstate New York is widely heralded as having one of the top college basketball programs in the country. (Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Bohan)

ESPN pulls Hank Williams Jr. MNF intro over Hitler remark


ESPN pulled its “Monday Night Football” introduction by Hank Williams Jr. after the singer compared President Obama to Hitler.

The song was pulled from the introduction to Monday night’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

ESPN said in a statement that it would remove the song for one game and decide what to do in the future based on an apology from Williams.

During an appearance Monday on “Fox and Friends,” Williams said that Obama’s golf outing with Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner was like “Hitler playing golf with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.”

The singer’s hit “All my Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Monday Night” has been the “Monday Night Football” introduction for the past 23 seasons.

“While Hank Williams Jr. is not an ESPN employee, we recognize that he is closely linked to our company through the open to ‘Monday Night Football,’ ” the network said in its statement. “We are extremely disappointed with his comments, and as a result we have decided to pull the open from tonight’s telecast.”

Williams released a statement late Monday explaining that he was “misunderstood.”

“Some of us have strong opinions and are often misunderstood,” the statement said in part. My analogy was extreme—but it was to make a point. I was simply trying to explain how stupid it seemed to me—how ludicrous that pairing was. They’re polar opposites and it made no sense. They don’t see eye to eye and never will. I have always respected the office of the President.”

The Anti-Defamation League on Tuesday praised ESPN for its decision to pull the Williams intro.

“ESPN responded appropriately and did the right thing in pulling the Hank Williams Jr. football song from the airwaves,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director and a Holocaust survivor. “The Holocaust was a singular event in human history, and it is an insult to the memory of the millions who died as a result of Hitler’s plan of mass extermination to compare the Nazi dictator to any American president.”

Responding to the Williams statement, Foxman said the singer “should know better.”

“He owes an apology to Holocaust survivors, their families, and the brave American soldiers who gave of themselves to fight the Nazi menace during World War II,” Foxman said.

Tennessee reportedly sends Bruce Pearl packing


Bruce Pearl, who guided the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team to unprecedented success and the U.S. men’s squad to the Maccabiah Games gold medal, has been fired by the university, according to ESPN.com.

Pearl, 51, was informed of his dismissal on Monday, sources said. The Knoxville school must reach a financial settlement with the coach and his assistants.

Pearl was charged with unethical conduct by the NCAA for misleading its investigators, which he acknowledged at a tearful news conference last September.

On an entry posted Monday on his Facebook page, Pearl said, “This is perhaps the saddest day in my life. I loved everything about Tennessee, Knoxville and the Volunteers. These were the best years of my life.”

Tennessee had docked his salary by $1.5 million over five years, banned him from off-campus recruiting for a year and terminated his contract in September. He was coaching without a contract. Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive tacked on an eight-game suspension from conference play.

Pearl, who is Jewish and a popular speaker at Jewish events, led Tennessee to an unprecedented six straight NCAA tournament appearances. Michigan defeated the Vols, 75-45, in the second round of this year’s tournament.

In six seasons, Pearl led the Volunteers to their first No. 1 ranking in 2008 and first NCAA tournament regional finals appearance, missing out on a trip to the 2010 Final Four by one point.

In July 2009, Pearl’s American squad upset defending gold medalist Israel, 95-86, in overtime in the Maccabiah Games gold-medal game. His son Steven was a member of the squad, as well as the University of Tennessee team.

“It’s coaching the U.S. team, representing the United States of America in an international competition and coaching the game of basketball, the game I love, and doing it in my Jewish homeland,” he told JTA prior to the tournament. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

The Basketball Diaries


Two standout Jewish hoop stars headlining the Pac-10 basketball tournament? It’s all part of March Madness. David Bluthenthal, USC’s 22-year-old small forward, and Amit Tamir, UC Berkeley’s 22-year-old forward/center, each look to lead their team to the conference title at the March 7-9 tournament at Staples Center.

Tamir, a 6-foot-10, 250-pound freshman, is thrilled about the tournament, the first held since 1990. "I’m excited to compete in L.A. I’m going to have fun and enjoy my first college tournament," said Tamir, whose team entered the Pac-10 tournament ranked second.

The Jerusalem native earned Pac-10 Player of the Week and ESPN National Player of the Week honors (Feb. 11) for his performance against the University of Oregon. He posted a Cal freshman record 39 points, shooting 14-of-19 from the floor, including 5-of-6 from three-point range and 6-of-8 from the line. Tamir clinched Cal’s first five double-overtime points, leading the Golden Bears to their eventual 107-103 victory. He also snagged five boards.

Tamir recognizes that his exceptional play means more than just a phenomenal night on the court. "I got a lot of attention after Oregon and I know that made Jews, especially Israelis, proud. There’s something nice about being an Israeli ambassador of college ball," Tamir said.

Tamir almost missed his NCAA opportunity. While serving three years in the Israeli army, he earned a spot on the Israeli League’s Hapoel Jerusalem. Tamir said he wasn’t paid by Hapoel, but he did play with a professional on his team. This NCAA amateurism rule violation jeopardized Tamir’s eligibility. But Cal coach Ben Braun successfully fought to reduce Tamir’s potential seasonlong suspension to eight games.

Braun, who is also Jewish, discovered Tamir while coaching a youth team in Israel. The coach and player attended High Holy Day services together at Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland. "It was important to me to celebrate the holidays, and meant a lot to share them with Coach Braun," Tamir said. "It’s great playing under a Jewish coach because there’s so much he can relate to. We share a heritage, traditions and holidays."

Braun is not the only Golden Bear who puts this Israeli import at ease. Berkeley coeds make an extra effort to embrace Tamir.

"Students on campus come up and talk in Hebrew or just let me know they share Judaism with me. It’s made me feel at home," said Tamir, who played for the Israeli National under-18 and under-22 teams and led his 1997 ORT High School team to the Jerusalem city title.

Tamir’s teammates also contributed to his smooth continental transition. "Whenever there’s violence in Israel, the guys on the team want to know if it’s near my home, if my family is OK. It’s really nice, and I feel like I can help them understand what’s going on over there," Tamir said.

Tamir left more than heated conflict behind. His father, Asher, an electrician; his mother, Shula, a homemaker; older sisters, Rozit and Gal, and 11-year-old brother, Daniel, all remain in Jerusalem. "I miss my family and friends. And the food: the hummus, mmm, and, oh, the bourekes. My mom’s cooking especially," said Tamir, who does not keep kosher. "She’s a great cook," added the dutiful son, who claims he was overweight until age 15.

Tamir, who grew up watching televised Israeli League and NBA games with his father, aspires to be the first Israeli to play in the NBA. "It’s always been a dream of mine, and I think it would bring a lot of pride to Israel and the Jewish people," Tamir said.

Bluthenthal has similar NBA dreams. "I’ve wanted the NBA since I was 5, and am excited to have been invited to draft camps. After the season, all my efforts will go toward it. But now, I’m focused on the team and our tournament success," said Bluthenthal, a senior whose Trojans entered this weekend’s tournament ranked third. "We’ve got a great team and a shot at winning the title," added the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Los Angeles native.

The lifelong Lakers fan will enjoy his hometown advantage. "We don’t have to travel, and our L.A. fans will be there to support us," said Bluthenthal, who attended both Venice and Westchester highs.

A talented three-point shooter and aggressive rebounder, Bluthenthal got his career third Pac-10 Conference Player of the Week nod (Feb. 18) for his Arizona series performance. He came off the bench against Arizona State and earned his third double-double of the season, posting 21 points and 10 rebounds. In an upset victory over the Arizona Wildcats, he seized nine rebounds and collected a career high 31 points, making 7-of-12 from three-point range.

After an up-and-down season, the history major credits his success against Arizona, ASU and Stanford (22 points) on his strong mental attitude and work ethic. "I haven’t had the best season, but I stay positive and practice a lot," said Bluthenthal, who hits the gym by 7 a.m. daily and takes 500-700 shots before class. "I love shooting, so practice comes easily to me. And I think it’s paid off," added Bluthenthal, who recently became the 26th USC player to earn 1,000 career points.

Bluthenthal admits it’s difficult to fit Judaism into his current schedule. "I’ve gone to services a few times, but there’s not really time between school and basketball. But I’ve been thinking about going more after the season’s over," he said.

He is, however, a proud Maccabiah Games participant. He played at the 1996 New Jersey games, earned bronze at the 1997 Israeli games and gold at the Pan-American Maccabiah Games in Mexico City. "My Israel trip was an amazing experience. I played with great older players, saw incredible sites and learned about the heritage and history," said Bluthenthal, who withdrew from the 2001 games due to an injury.

This preseason Wooden Award candidate, who holds the Trojan record for most game rebounds (28), has become a Jewish phenomenon. "I receive a lot of attention for being a Jewish basketball player. I was fortunate to be born with my height and a love for the game. If my success — getting to play college ball — inspires other Jewish athletes, then that’s great," Bluthenthal said. "I’m happy to be some sort of role model to young Jewish players," he added, blushing almost as much as he does when asked about a girlfriend.

Raised in Marina del Rey, Bluthenthal wanted to stay in Los Angeles for college, the weather and his family. His father Ralph, a retired L.A. County Sheriff’s Department officer; younger sister, Evelyn, who plays volleyball for Venice High School and the 2001 Maccabiah Team, and two older siblings live in Los Angeles.

Though Bluthenthal’s great-great-great-grandfather, Wilshire Boulevard Temple past president Isaias Hellman, was one of three original USC land donors, Bluthenthal once dreamed of playing for UCLA. "The Bruins have a great basketball tradition. But now I’m glad I went to ‘SC, where we started a new tradition," he said proudly. Last year, USC went to the NCAA Elite Eight for the first time since 1954. Bluthenthal earned East Region All-NCAA Tournament Team honors.

"Because this is my senior year, I want us to win the Pac-10 Tournament and go even further than last year in the NCAA Tournament," Bluthenthal said.

Jewish basketball fans everywhere hope to see both Bluthenthal and Tamir achieve their hoop dreams.