Koby Altman is the second Jewish general manager in Cleveland Cavaliers’ history. Photo from the Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers bring in a Jewish general manager. Didn’t David Blatt coach there?

The team that brought you Maccabi Tel Aviv’s David Blatt as coach, led by a Jewish owner in Dan Gilbert, now has a Jewish general manager.

Koby Altman, 34, was named GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday after serving as an interim replacement for the past five weeks.

He may need some help from Hashem to keep the Cavs on the championship path, what with one of their top players, Kyrie Irving, reportedly requesting a trade off the LeBron James-powered squad after it was vanquished by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals last month.

At a news conference with Gilbert alongside, Altman noted the team’s “unprecedented success” over the past three seasons – consecutive appearances in the Finals and a title capping the 2015-16 campaign, the Cleveland Jewish News reported.

Blatt was the Cavs’ coach until he was dismissed in January with Cleveland holding the best record in the Eastern Conference. Assistant Tyronn Lue took over for the championship run and remains the head coach. The previous season, Blatt had guided the Cavaliers to the Finals – a losing effort to the Warriors.

Altman, a native of Brooklyn, New York, has been leading the front office since David Griffin left the organization after serving three years as general manager. He and the team could not reach an agreement on a contract extension.

“This is a promotion, and it’s an incredible promotion … but I’ve been here, I know this organization really well,” Altman said at the news conference, according to the Cleveland Jewish News. “This is going to be my sixth year here. I know the cast of characters very well. I’ve worked across all levels of this organization and I have deep relationships across all levels of this organization, and I know I can now lead this organization because of that.”

Regarding Irving, Gilbert said he heard about the request from media reports and did not confirm whether the All-Star performer had made the request.

Altman was promoted to assistant general manager last September from director of pro personnel. He had joined the Cavs in 2012 as pro personnel manager.

Previously, Altman served as an assistant coach at Columbia University in New York for two seasons and as a graduate assistant at Southern Illinois. He earned a master’s degree in sport management at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. While at UMass, he was a coach at nearby Amherst College for two seasons and helped guide the team to a 48-11 record.

Altman was a three-year starter at point guard for Middlebury College in Vermont.

He is the second Jewish GM in Cavs’ history: Harry Weltman held the post from 1982 to 1986. Under his direction, the Cavs made the playoffs for the first time in seven years, in 1984-85.

Amar’e Stoudemire playing for Hapoel Jerusalem in a game against Maccabi Tel Aviv in Jerusalem on Feb. 16. Photo from Flash90

Amar’e Stoudemire unsure if he will play basketball again in Israel next year

Amar’e Stoudemire returned to Miami from Israel but does not know if he will be back to play basketball despite applying for citizenship.

Stoudemire and his Hapoel Jerusalem club won the Israel Premier League championship last week.

“It felt amazing after a long season to lift up the championship trophy,” the former NBA All-Star told the New York Post in an interview published Wednesday.

Stoudemire, 34, also told the Post he is weighing his options for next year, including retirement, returning to play for Hapoel Jerusalem or playing again in the NBA, perhaps with the New York Knicks, a former team.

The 6-10 forward said he would enjoy defending Hapoel’s title, but the Israeli media have reported that he did not see eye to eye with the Hapoel coach.

Stoudemire was a partial owner of Hapoel, which he had to suspend in order to play. He signed a two-year contract with the club last year.

“The fans have been amazing — at every game they’re cheering, ecstatic all game and positive,’’ Stoudemire told the Post.

Stoudemire —who isn’t Jewish but identifies with the Hebrew Israelites, African-Americans who believe they are connected to the biblical Israelites — told the Post of his religious observances.

“I follow all the laws of Moses, Passover with unleavened bread, Yom Kippur, the culture and law of the land,” he said. “It was perfect for me. I was able to adapt easily because we all followed the same laws of the Torah.’’

Stoudemire’s wife and children spent the year with him in Israel.

Stoudemire says he turned down ‘a lot of money’ to play in Israel

Amar’e Stoudemire, the former NBA star whose two-year deal with the Israeli team Hapoel Jerusalem was announced last week, said he could have stayed in the NBA, but elected to play in the Jewish state instead.

“I turned down a lot of money in the NBA to play for Israel, so it’s not about the money at all, it’s about winning championships,” Stoudemire said in an interview published on the Walla website and cited by the Times of Israel.

Stoudemire arrived in Israel on Friday and headed immediately for Dimona, the southern city home to a large community of African Hebrew Israelites, African-American immigrants to Israel who believe they are descendants of the biblical tribe of Judah. The former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks star has long touted a connection to Judaism and his “Hebrew roots.” He has traveled to Israel several times, including a 2013 trip as the assistant coach of the Canadian basketball squad competing in the Maccabiah Games, and has a Star of David tattoo.

Stoudemire told Israeli media he would play for the national team if he received Israeli citizenship.

Amar’e Stoudemire signs two-year deal with Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team

Amar’e Stoudemire, who retired from the NBA last week, has signed a two-year deal with the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team.

The team announced the deal on its website on Monday. It did not disclose terms of the deal.

Stoudemire has been a minority owner of Hapoel Jerusalem since 2013.  As part of his contract with Hapoel Jerusalem, Stoudemire will sell his shares in the club to Dr. Ori Allon, president and majority owner of the team.

“I am looking forward to playing for Hapoel Jerusalem and helping the team compete for titles,” said Stoudemire. “My family and I are excited to start a new journey in Israel, a country I have grown to love.”

Currently led by coach Simone Pianigiani, Hapoel Jerusalem is one of the oldest and most successful teams in the Israeli Basketball League, according to its website. The club has won numerous Israeli State and League Cups, as well as one Israeli Championship and one EuroCup title.

“We are thrilled to have a player of Amar’e’s caliber join our team, solidifying our place among the top echelon of Israeli and European basketball,” Allon said in a statement. “More importantly, bringing Amar’e to Jerusalem raises the profile of the entire Israeli Basketball League, and we hope that his joining our team will lead to increased interest in our league from basketball fans around the world as well as talented international players.”

Stoudemire is scheduled to travel to Israel next week as part of a charity project of NBA Cares. The project is organized by the foundation of Omri Casspi of the Sacramento Kings, the first Israeli to play in the NBA.

In 2010, after joining the New York Knicks, Stoudemire told the New York Post that he had become “spiritually and culturally Jewish.” The All-Star said he was keeping kosher and would celebrate the High Holy Days. He traveled to Israel that year after discovering that his mother appeared to have Jewish ancestry.

Stoudemire, 33, is a six-time NBA All-Star who played in the league for 14 years, retiring last week as a Knick. His first eight seasons were with the Phoenix Suns. Stoudemire closed out his career playing a season each in Dallas and Miami.

David Blatt to interview with Sacramento Kings for head coaching job

David Blatt, the Israeli American who was fired this season as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, reportedly will interview with the Sacramento Kings for the same position.

The NBA team reportedly has interviewed several candidates with head coaching experience, ESPN reported Sunday in an article citing unnamed league sources who said Blatt would be interviewed early this week. The Kings recently fired George Karl after finishing 33-49 this season.

Blatt interviewed for the New York Knicks last month, though the team is said to be leaning toward interim coach Kurt Rambis, and also was considered by the Los Angeles Lakers before they hired Luke Walton last week.

Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the NBA, is coming off a strong season with the Kings. Casspi also played for Maccabi Tel Aviv, which Blatt coached to the 2014 Euroleague championship.

At the time of his firing in January, Blatt said he wanted to remain in the NBA, as opposed to returning to coaching in Israel and the European leagues, where he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to five national titles and the Euroleague crown. He also guided the Russian national team to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

At the time of his dismissal, the Cavaliers had the best record in the Eastern Conference. Some claimed the team’s superstar, LeBron James, undermined the coach. Blatt had led the Cavs to the 2015 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games.


Israeli-American coach David Blatt reportedly on potential list for Lakers post

David Blatt, the Israeli American who was fired this season as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, reportedly is under consideration for the same post with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Blatt was listed this week in an ESPN report, citing unnamed league sources, as one of 10 potential candidates on the NBA team’s “long list” to replace Byron Scott, who the Lakers announced Sunday will not be returning next season. Scott, a former Lakers’ player, coached the squad to its two worst seasons ever.

Blatt has been rumored as in the running for head coach of the New York Knicks, though reports circulating this week say his candidacy for the position is a smokescreen to hide the team’s intention to hire interim coach Kurt Rambis. Blatt played basketball at Princeton University with the Knicks’ general manager, Steve Mills, in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

At the time of his firing in January, Blatt said he wanted to remain in the NBA, as opposed to returning to coaching in Israel and the European leagues, where he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to five national titles and the 2014 Euroleague championship. He also guided the Russian national team to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

At the time of his dismissal, the Cavaliers had the best record in the Eastern Conference. Some claimed the team’s superstar, LeBron James, undermined the coach. Blatt had led the Cavs to the 2015 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games.

Israeli-American basketball coach David Blatt in running for Knicks post

David Blatt, the Israeli American who was fired this season as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, reportedly is under consideration to take the New York Knicks post.

Blatt is in the running for the job currently being filled on an interim basis by Kurt Rambis, ESPN reported Monday evening, citing unnamed league sources.

Blatt played at Princeton with the Knicks general manager, Steve Mills, in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

Several other coaches with NBA coaching experience are available, some with past ties to the Knicks.

Blatt said at the time of his firing in January that he wanted to remain in the NBA, as opposed to returning to coaching in Israel and the European leagues, where he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to five national titles and the 2014 Euroleague championship. He also guided the Russian national team to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

At the time of his dismissal, the Cavaliers had the best record in the Eastern Conference. Some claimed the team’s superstar, LeBron James, undermined the coach. Blatt had led the Cavs to the 2015 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games.

He reportedly also is being considered for head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, the New York Post reported. The team is owned by Russian businessman Mikhail Prokhorov, who knows Blatt from his time as a coach in Moscow.

Mark Turenshine, NBA star, Life Alert general manager, 71

Mark Turenshine, a former NBA star who also was one of Israel’s top basketball players, died on Feb. 26.  He was 71.

A resident of Canoga Park, Turenshine was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1944. He began his athletic career at Sheepshead Bay High School, which inducted him into its hall of fame four years ago.

In 1967-68, Turenshine played alongside Wilt Chamberlain on the Philadelphia 76ers. In 1968, he made aliyah and joined the Israeli professional basketball team Hapoel Tel Aviv, where he remained until 1979. He also was a member of Israel’s national team, which participated in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics.   

Turenshine returned to the U.S. and became a successful businessman, rising to the position of general manager of the personal emergency services company Life Alert, where he was employed for the last 35 years.

Turenshine’s friend since 1974 and longtime Life Alert colleague Rami Gilboa of Encino eulogized the former athlete, calling him “one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, who knew everything about sports, politics and economics.” Gilboa added,  “At 6-feet, 5-inches, he was a big guy, and his heart was even bigger.”

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino continued the theme, saying, “Mark lived big and loved big.”

Turenshine is survived by Cathy, his wife of nearly 30 years; their daughters Natalie and Daniella; son-in-law Jake; and his sister Harriet Gribben.

Funeral services and burial took place on March 1 at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Simi Valley.

Lakers make Jewish youth wish come true

Despite being in last place in the NBA’s Western Conference and on pace to eclipse last season’s franchise-record loss total of 61, the Lakers had a reason to smile Jan. 31, thanks to a surprise free-agent signing. 

Yitzi Teichman, 18, joined the team just months after undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor, penning an honorary one-day contract. The high school student spent pregame meetings and warm-ups with Kobe Bryant and the other Lakers before sitting on the bench for the contest against the Charlotte Hornets — all thanks to a partnership with Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles. 

For the lifelong Lakers fan, who joked his first word was “Kobe,” hitting the court with the purple and gold was the thrill of a lifetime. 

“I’ve been watching Lakers games since I was a kid,” Teichman said when reached by phone. “I’ve watched the players walk in and out of that locker room so many times. To actually go in there was mind-blowing. Kobe was just sitting there. They put my locker right next to his.”

“He was just like part of the crew,” Bryant said in a story reported by NBA.com. “He just came in here, hung out, and sat next to me. He was here for the pregame, here for halftime and here postgame. He fit in very well.”

Teichman currently lives in Baltimore but is a Los Angeles native and former member of Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village who spent some time at Valley Torah High School. He was given the opportunity to sign a one-day contract, a ceremonial gesture normally reserved for ex-players, thanks to the Lakers’ strong ties to Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles.

“The Lakers are proud of our ongoing partnership with Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles. Our players and team are an integral part of making wishes come true for many wish recipients,” said Jason McDevitt, community relations director for the Lakers, in a statement regarding the team’s annual wish night. 

It was just months ago that Teichman was fighting for his life on an operating table. On the night of Jan. 31, his childhood wish of being a Laker came true, and his smile lit up Staples Center. 

“The Lakers played a major role in planning this wish, which was a collaborative effort with the Los Angeles and Mid-Atlantic Make-A-Wish chapters. Even though we’re doing the planning, it’s really the wish kid who makes the wish so special and such an incredible experience for everyone involved. In this instance, Yitzi had the best attitude dealing with one of the toughest battles a child can face. He went in there with a positive outlook, and the way he continues to deal with his medical condition inspires us to continue what we do here at Make-A-Wish,” a spokesman for Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles said in a statement. 

Teichman’s parents and six of his seven siblings were on hand to see the 18-year-old presented with his own Lakers jersey for the game with the No. 18, which in Hebrew is chai, or life. 

“It was really special to have the whole family there,” Teichman said. “We have a huge family and don’t travel together much. I actually didn’t see them a lot since I was with the players most of the time, but just knowing they were there, chilling and enjoying themselves was really cool. They’ve been through a lot, too.” 

Teichman’s cancer is in now in remission, and he has been accepted to the University of Maryland and Towson University for next year. 

But on this night, there were other highlights for Teichman, who despite suffering a loss with his new teammates (Hornets 101, Lakers 82), didn’t leave the arena empty handed. 

Bryant, who poured in 23 points and pulled down eight rebounds on the night, much to the delight of fans basking in his farewell tour, signed a pair of his own game-worn shoes with the message “dream epic.” Teichman talked trash playfully with reserve shooting guard Nick Young. And power forward Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest) gave the teen one of his game-worn shoes. Just one. 

“I don’t know what he’s going to do with the other one,” Teichman said.

Firing of Cavs’ Blatt has Israelis losing sleep – but not to watch late-night games

Restless sleep often prompted Tel Aviv resident Mike Bargman to flick on his bedroom television to watch Cleveland Cavaliers’ games.

“You get a thrill when he’s running up the court,” said Bargman, the managing director of a public-relations firm in the city.

Bargman was talking not about Cleveland’s star forward, LeBron James, but about the head coach, David Blatt, who reached the NBA following a nearly 30-year career in Israel as a player and a coach.

The Israeli pride remains, but forget about any more Cavs’ games for Bargman. A friend’s text message at 4 a.m. Saturday woke Bargman with the news that Blatt had been fired after leading the Cavs for just a season and a half, including to a 30-11 record this season — the best in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s absurd,” Bargman said.

The dismissal of Blatt, who led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the 2014 Euroleague championship in an upset, has stunned Israelis. After all, in his Cavs’ tenure, he had racked up an 83-40 record — the seventh-best winning percentage (.675) in NBA history. In his first year, he guided the Cavs to just their second appearance in the NBA Finals.

So what doomed Blatt in Cleveland, where he wore his Israeli identity on his sleeve, pointedly called on Israeli reporters in news conferences during the playoffs and responding to their questions in Hebrew?

Some Israeli fans are pointing at James, saying he undermined the coach – and worse.

Blatt had been hired in the summer of 2014, fresh off his Maccabi crown, to develop a young team steadily recovering from James’ 2010 departure for the Miami Heat. The Cavs had just drafted Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins with the No. 1 overall pick.

But a month later, Cleveland abruptly reversed course.

James, a native of Akron, Ohio, returned to his home area as a free agent after leading the Heat to two NBA titles. And in an effort to make an immediate run at the championship, the Cavs’ general manager, David Griffin, opted to rebuild around veterans: He brought in All-Star forward Kevin Love from Minnesota in exchange for Wiggins and others.

That summer, James rebuffed Blatt’s offers to meet. During the season, James changed plays called by Blatt — a habit brought to a dramatic climax in the closing seconds of a nationally televised conference semifinal game against the Chicago Bulls in which James hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer. James told journalists he scrapped the play in the huddle.

“If I had salespeople not following the plan, that wouldn’t be acceptable behavior, for sure,” said Mark Mayerfeld, who manages a 12-person sales and account staff for Trader Tools, a software company in Raanana. “You’ve got to follow the plan. If you don’t, you’ll be fired.”

Another Israeli, marketing executive Barry Spielman, added: “I don’t think this would be accepted in any workplace: not in the army, not in business, not in government. It’s insubordination of the highest order.

“You can’t have a prima donna on a sports team. Blatt’s mistake is that he didn’t put LeBron James in his place last season. He didn’t call him out. Eventually he lost the confidence of the team. Once he lost the team, he probably lost the management.”

One Israeli voice of dissent was Yediot Acharonot columnist Sharon Davidovitch, who cited the hard reality of the National Basketball Association being a star-driven league.

“It was the right decision, but it was cold, it was painful and – there’s no other way to say it – insulting,” he wrote, adding that the most important thing is “for the star to be happy enough to bring the team a championship.

“Can the inexperienced [Blatt replacement] Tyronn Lue help him get there? It’s uncertain. But for the moment, it makes LeBron happy. And that’s what’s important.”

In an interview Monday on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” program, Griffin said Blatt’s firing was not “a panic move.”

“I recognized where our spirit was,” Griffin explained. “What I don’t think we have is a swag and a belief in one another. You watch Cam Newton: He is the identity of the Carolina Panthers, and he has absolutely no fear. We play the best teams in this league, and we don’t play like that right now.”

Indeed, said Tal Brody, formerly a star player for Maccabi Tel Aviv, the Cavs losing by 34 points to last year’s champions, the Golden State Warriors, in a home game last week “was a backbreaker” for Blatt in Cleveland. Brody said he sent Blatt a supportive email after the firing but hasn’t heard back.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly conveyed his best wishes, too.

Blatt is hardly the first coach in U.S. professional sports to be fired despite winning consistently. The Warriors dismissed Mark Jackson following their 51-31 finish in 2013-14 – 28 more wins than he registered two seasons earlier. Casey Stengel famously told reporters he had been informed that “my services were no longer desired” after leading the New York Yankees to within one run of a World Series title in 1960 that would have been his eighth championship in 12 years.

Blatt, though, was a landsman representing tiny Israel in one of the world’s best-known sports leagues. His wife and children still live in Israel.

And he had earned his shot at the big time: Along with the Euroleague title prized by Israelis, he delivered Russia a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics and had won league championships in Israel, Italy and Russia. Shortly after the firing, rumors began linking Blatt to the Brooklyn Nets’ head-coaching vacancy.

“He’ll have to earn his stripes again [with] another NBA team, a team that’s middle of the pack or lower end — and I think he’ll be successful at it,” Mayerfeld said. “He’s been a winner his whole life. I see him having success in the NBA still.”

David Blatt made Israelis the biggest Cavs fans outside of Cleveland. Now what?

It’s hard to be a Cleveland sports fan.

We’ve had our share of disappointments. We haven’t had a championship for any major team since 1964. But they are our teams and we love them.

When I made aliyah 15 years ago, Cleveland wasn’t on the radar for most Israelis. But when LeBron James joined — then infamously left — the Cleveland Cavaliers, my hometown became known to my fellow citizens.

When the Cavs tapped Israeli-American David Blatt as head coach in 2014, and then LeBron returned shortly thereafter, recognition of our NBA team skyrocketed. Cleveland was suddenly every Israeli’s favorite city and we natives became minor celebrities.

Now, with Blatt’s firing last Friday, Cleveland has become notorious.

LeBron may be the NBA’s biggest star, but Israelis love Blatt, who is best known for leading Israel’s beloved Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team to the 2014 Euroleague championship.

Blatt was the first Israeli to become an NBA head coach. Blatt, after graduating from Princeton, made aliyah to play professional basketball in Israel, and elsewhere, until a career-ending injury.

For the first half of this season, it was unusually easy to find Cavs games live on Israeli sports channels (with the Israeli color commentators speaking in Hebrew right over the Fox or ESPN feed). Israelis, my family included, wanted to see those camera shots of Blatt on the sidelines, leading the team with the best record in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

Now, however, I expect that to change. The Cavs, especially LeBron James — who was rumored to never like Blatt  — are public enemy No. 1 here. Israelis, like many Cavs fans around the world, are wondering how the team’s front office could fire the coach of a team that made it to the NBA Finals last year and has among the winningest records in the league.

The Cavs had won 11 of their last 13 games when Blatt was unceremoniously sent on his way, though the Golden State Warrior’s 132-98 blowout of the Cavs, at home, on Jan. 18 probably helped make up their mind.

While Israelis are content to lay much of the blame on James, for me, it’s complicated. As a Cleveland native, I want to see — actually, I need to see — my Cavs go all the way (just once in my lifetime, please!).

As an Israeli, I hope that Blatt finds a new NBA team to coach that will appreciate him and treat him with the respect he deserves.

But do I want Blatt to find wild success elsewhere? After all, Bill Belichick, after five seasons as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, led the New England Patriots to six Super Bowl appearances and four victories. That still stings.

A similar victory for Blatt would sting even worse — but I’d be proud, too.

For now, I think I’ll keep my collection of Cleveland sports team T-shirts and sweatshirts in the closet. At least until a new team offers Blatt another dream job. Or the Cavs win an NBA championship. Whichever comes first.

Dolph Schayes, Jewish basketball star, dies at 87

American Jewish basketball pro Dolph Schayes, a 12-time All-Star voted one of the 50 greatest players in National Basketball Association history, has died.

Schayes, who had terminal cancer, died on Thursday in Syracuse, New York, at the age of 87, the New York Times reported.

Schayes was, according to a 2014 article in The New York Jewish Week, “arguably, to professional basketball, what Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg were to baseball — the most prominent professional Jewish athlete to ever to play his sport.”

The first NBA player to score 15,000 points, Schayes never missed a game between February 1952 and December 1961, according to the Times, and led the Syracuse Nationals to the championship in 1955.

In 1966, Schayes was named NBA coach of the year for his work with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Schayes was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1973.

Born in the Bronx (his given name was Adolph) to Romanian Jewish immigrants in 1928, Schayes began playing basketball on local playgrounds, then played for the Bronx’s DeWitt Clinton High School. As a freshman at New York University, where he studied aeronautical engineering, Schayes helped the team reach the NCAA finals.

In 1977, he coached the U.S. basketball team in Israel’s international Maccabiah Games, where it won a gold medal.

He is survived by his wife, four children and nine grandchildren. A funeral is planned for Monday.

Los Angeles Lakers blowout Maccabi Haifa B.C., US-Israeli ties are strengthened

Israeli and Jewish pride was everywhere on the evening of Oct. 11, as the Los Angeles Lakers and the Israeli Premier League team Maccabi Haifa Basketball Club (Maccabi Haifa B.C.) competed in an NBA exhibition game at Staples Center. 

Maccabi Haifa B.C. players Renee Rougeau – a forward originally from Sacramento –  Jewish-American center Jeremiah Kreisberg and others lost to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in a blowout, 126-83. Tip-off at the sold-out, evening matchup was 6:30 p.m. ,and the game ended at approximately 9 p.m.

The game served both as an exhibition game for the Lakers and an opportunity for Maccabi Haifa B.C. to raise funds for American Friends of Rambam (AFORAM)/Rambam Health Care Campus, in Haifa. Maccabi Haifa B.C. has adopted the hospital and health center as its charity, and the players are there, when necessary.

“Sports are a great connector, and the L.A. Lakers are obviously a really great team, and this helps us reach out to the community in a fun way,” AFORAM Executive Director Michelle Segelnick, who was at the game, said in a later interview.

The hospital touts itself as the “official hospital for the Maccabi Haifa basketball team.” It is the largest hospital in the north of Israel, and it has been involved in responding to mass casualty events abroad, as well, including at the Syrian border.

Meanwhile, the Israeli team’s game against the Lakers team was part of a multi-day trip to the United States, which also included a stop for a Q&A and lunch at Sephardic Temple on Oct. 10, as part of the team’s efforts to raise awareness for the hospital. The team also played an exhibition game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Oct. 8. The Grizzlies defeated Maccabi Haifa B.C. 97-84. 

In a phone interview before the two NBA games, Jeff Rosen, the United States-based owner of Maccabi Haifa B.C., said the Israeli team, in competing against teams like the Lakers, is preparing for its own season, which kicks off in late October.

“We’re pretty excited about it. We’ve been working the last five seasons on NBA pre-season tours…it’s been a huge branding opportunity, and, of course, it just gets our guys ready with the highest competition in the world for our upcoming season,” he said.

Maccabi Haifa B.C. is one of 12 teams in the Israeli Premier League. The team is one of the strongest in the league, with its biggest rival being Tel-Aviv’s team, Rosen said. 

“There is a highly competitive brand of basketball in Haifa. Today it would be an objective comment to say Haifa, along with Jerusalem and along with Tel-Aviv, are the three elite teams in the league,” he said. 

“Basketball in general is the second-largest most spectator sport [in Israel], with soccer first,” Rosen added. 

Ariella Steinreich, a spokesperson for AFORAM, said for the Israeli team to play against NBA teams reinforces U.S.-Israeli ties.

“It’s important for Israeli-American relations, to spread awareness about the game,” she said in a phone interview.

Her hopes came true at the Staples Center: an Israeli flag hung from the stadium ceiling, alongside an American and Canadian flags, a scoreboard displayed text messages from attendees during half-time, including, “Am Yisrael Chai” and “Oh Vey! Go Lakers!” and many in the crowd sported Magen Davidadorned garb. 

Attendees included Santa Monica resident and self-described “lifelong Lakers fan” David Leifer, who found himself rooting against his favorite team on Sunday.

Leifer was there with Daniel Rude, a Los Angeles-based chiropractor and Beth Jacob congregant who wore a fuzzy top hat with a Jewish Star of David emblazoned on it. The Lakers led 63-40 at halftime — Maccabi Haifa B.C., whose players wore green uniforms, trailed throughout the game, struggling to complete plays close to the basketball hoop — prompting Rude to say it would take more than a prayer for Maccabi Haifa B.C. to catch up to the Lakers.

“No, not unless the messiah comes,” said Rude, when asked if the Israeli squad had any chance of closing the gap. 

And while many in the crowd were rooting for the Israelis, Lakers star Bryant – as well as veteran Metta World Peace, who recently returned to the Lakers, and the young, upcoming guard Nick Young– garnered some of the loudest applause. This was L.A., after all.

And apparently, the excitement to see Bryant wasn’t only coming from the crowds.

“We’re totally pumped,” Rosen said last week over the phone of playing against the NBA legend. “I just hope the guys don’t get star struck getting Kobe Bryant’s autograph. I told them that after getting his autograph, they have to go back to practice. After that, I think we’ll do just fine.”  

NBA player Omri Casspi says Adelson-funded Israel trip not about politics

Although it might seem like a nice off-season vacation shared by Israel’s first NBA player, Omri Casspi, forward for the Sacramento Kings, with his teammates, the funding for the Israel trip was generously provided by casino tycoon and Republican super donor Sheldon Adelson, and that has caused some to suspect political motives.

Perhaps it is Birthright for Basketball, or simply Casspi’s desire to show his fellow teammates that Israel can be a fun, relaxing place, free from fears of terrorism and the enduring conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Joining Casspi on a private jet were teammates DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Caron Butler, along with former team members Tyreke Evans, and Chandler Parsons. On the agenda were trips to the Dead Sea, Yad Vashem, the Western Wall, a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a basketball clinic for Israeli and Palestinian youth.

Sheldon Adelson, who helps fund the Birthright program, as well as Republican political candidates, is now also funding efforts to combat the BDS–the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement that intends to cripple Israel financially as a penalty for an impasse in the peace process with the Palestinians.

The fact that Adelson is bankrolling the trip is being taken as a sign that the main motive for Casspi’s trip was anti-BDS PR, but Casspi insists the motive was simply to show his fellow players his home. The forward who joined the Kings in 2009 said, “I always tell my teammates, ‘Come see my part of the world.’ I go to your house when we go to Washington. Come meet my parents, my brother, my sister. It is literally as simple as that. On CNN, all you see is war. My thought is, come and see for yourself. Sheldon … is a Republican. [Barack Obama] is a Democrat. Good, bad, whatever. It doesn’t matter. We have to work on our relationships.”

An objection to funding by right wing Adelson may be balanced by the fact that Casspi has run basketball clinics at a camp run by the Peres Center for Peace. The camp hosts Israeli and Palestinian kids and focuses on building tolerance and faith in co-existence through cooperation in sports.

“We’ll have DeMarcus play with a kid from Jerusalem, a kid from Gaza. That’s something that’s never been done before. These guys being here, seeing how beautiful it is, and nothing about politics,” Casspi insists.

Jordan Farmar returning to Maccabi Tel Aviv

Jordan Farmar, a Jewish NBA player who won two league championships as a member of his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, is heading back to Israel to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Farmar, who is Jewish, played 16 games for Maccabi Tel Aviv during the NBA lockout of 2011. The 6-2 guard, a standout at UCLA, was on the Lakers for five seasons. He also has played for the New Jersey Nets and  Los Angeles Clippers, who released him in January. Farmer averaged 7.7 points and 2.9 assists over his NBA career.

“I’m very excited, happy to have received this opportunity and ready for the big challenge,” Farmar told the Maccabi website. “I can’t wait for the moment that I return to the place which is like a home to me — the State of Israel, the city of Tel Aviv and Maccabi.”

Maccabi’s head coach, Guy Goodes, told The Jerusalem Post that the club is “very happy” to have Farmer returning.

“We all know about his massive, massive talent, endless offensive capabilities and his great experience in the NBA,” Goodes said.

Meanwhile, Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the National Basketball Association, recently signed a two-year, $6 million contract to remain with the Sacramento Kings, the team that drafted him in 2009 and reacquired him for the 2014-15 season. Casspi averaged nearly 20 points per game during the last month of last season.

Stephen Curry’s mom says Israel trip transformed her spiritually

The mother of Stephen Curry, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, said a trip to Israel five years ago transformed her and sparked her interest in learning Hebrew.

Sonya Curry told Israel’s Sport 5 channel in an interview after Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Oakland, California, on Sunday night that her son’s basketball success is a result of “grace and favor.” She added that he was “made for this moment.”

Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors own a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are coached by Israeli-American David Blatt and led by four-time MVP LeBron James.

Sonya Curry showed the interviewer the Hebrew tattoo on the nape of her neck that reads “chen,” meaning grace.

She said that following a visit to Israel about five years ago, she “was just transformed spiritually.” Curry said she wanted to learn Hebrew because it is the language that Jesus spoke and she wanted to read the Torah in Hebrew.

Stephen Curry and his wife have matching tattoos in Hebrew, a translation of a passage from 1 Corinthians 13:8 in the New Testament that translates to “love never fails.”

The Warriors can take the title with a victory in Game 6  tonight in Cleveland.

David Blatt puts Cleveland on Israel’s map

When my husband and I first made aliyah 15 years ago and an Israeli asked us where we were from in the United States, they looked at us blankly when we said Cleveland.

They knew New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami, but Cleveland simply was not on their radar. This despite the fact that Cleveland for many years sent a high number per capita of members of the Jewish community on aliyah – I have the telephone and address book of former Clevelanders published by our hometown association to prove it.

After a few years, when I said I was from Cleveland, an Israeli’s immediate response was “LeBron” — prep phenom LeBron James had been drafted out of his Akron parochial school by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003 and immediately began to make a name for himself in the NBA. He then made quite a big show of leaving the Cavaliers for Miami with a live ESPN special titled “The Decision,” and Cleveland again became a laughingstock (burning river anyone?) and somewhat known even in Israel.

Two weeks ago I spent a Shabbat on a small kibbutz in the lower Galilee where my daughter is performing her first year of national service. During a Shabbat meal at the home of a native Israeli family, their young son, taking note of my still pretty poor Hebrew, asked where we originally came from. At the mention of the word Cleveland his eyes widened and he leaned forward. “David Blatt,” he said in a reverent whisper of the Cavs’ first-year coach.

While Israelis love LeBron, they love Blatt even more.

David Blatt led Israel’s beloved Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team to the EuroLeague championship last year. David Blatt was the first Israeli to become a head coach in America. David Blatt, years earlier, had eschewed a shot at the NBA to make aliyah and play professional basketball in Israel until a career-ending injury.

Now Cleveland is on everyone’s radar here, with not only Clevelanders but thousands of Israelis waking up in the middle of the night to watch the playoffs and NBA Finals games live, saving the biggest cheers for shots of Blatt on the sidelines pacing in his neatly and decidedly un-Israeli tailored suit. We’re all walking bleary-eyed through the next day. The Clevelanders even have a hashtag, #CavsIsrael, and we cheer and commiserate via Facebook.

Being a fan of any Cleveland sports team is generally a thankless proposition – we haven’t had a championship for any major team since 1964 – but I love rooting for all my hometown teams.

Still the Cavs have a soft spot in my heart that predates Blatt, LeBron and aliyah. It goes back to the mid-1970s when my brother and I would huddle in his bedroom hours after we were supposed to be asleep listening to the team’s colorful radio announcer, Joe Tait, call the games.

You could hear the sport shoes scuffing on the floor and see the players going up for shots (“to the line, to the lane …”). Most rewarding was Tait’s triumphant shout of BINGO! when guard Bingo Smith swished a jump shot. We whispered Bingo with him and sang the Cavs’ fight song along with the fans at the games.

My nighttime Cavs’ watching here in Israel is reminiscent of those undercover nights as a youngster in Cleveland. Blatt and LeBron (who I have almost forgiven for “The Decision”) are just the icing on the cake.

Why the NBA finals are a lose-lose for David Blatt

After the last game of an impressive series sweep of the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt talked with broadcaster Ernie Johnson in front of an arena of joyous hometown fans.

“So let’s be honest,” Johnson said. “This hasn’t always been easy this year, David. But to be standing here, going to the finals, just tell me how that feels to you tonight.”

“Well, we’re in Cleveland,” Blatt said with a smile. “Nothing is easy here.”

As candid as that sounds, it’s almost an understatement in terms of describing Blatt’s tumultuous first season as an NBA coach. Somehow, despite parlaying a stellar European coaching career into a trip to the NBA Finals in just one season, Blatt finds himself on the hot seat, with something to prove.

How does that happen?

The crazy ride started with Blatt, 56, a four-time Coach of the Year in Israel, leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to an improbable Euroleague title in 2014. Blatt, who played point guard at Princeton and professionally in Israel’s Super League, initially thought he’d transfer to the NBA as an assistant to new Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr (whom he’ll now oppose in the finals) – but the Cavaliers took a chance and hired him as head coach in June 2014 to helm a team with modest expectations.

Quickly, however, things advanced to another level.

Just weeks after Blatt was hired, LeBron James – a northeastern Ohio native, a four-time MVP and one of the best players in NBA history – announced that he was leaving the Miami Heat (after two titles and four straight trips to the finals) to return to the Cavaliers, where he started his pro career as a teenager. Overnight, the Cavaliers were draped with championship-size expectations. The preseason acquisition of All-Star Kevin Love to join LeBron and Kyrie Irving, among the top point guards in the league, only added to the hype.

As the stars adjusted to playing together, the season started slowly – the club was 19-20 in January and lost its starting center to a year-ending injury. While the growing pains were predictable, Blatt’s job was rumored to be in jeopardy. Rumors that LeBron wanted Blatt fired swirled in the media, which seemed eager to pounce on the NBA newcomer.

After weathering the storm, Blatt acknowledged to JTA that he needed to make big adjustments in the NBA.

“I’ve gone through my own learning curve that I’ve obviously worked through,” Blatt told JTA in February after the Cavs started to turn around their season, winning 18 of their last 21 games. “Two-thirds through the regular season I’ve become a lot more comfortable, and a lot more cognizant of the things that are necessary to make a winning situation on an NBA team.”

With the help of several crucial midseason acquisitions (J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov), Blatt’s team streaked into the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s second seed and the league’s hottest team. The Cavs lost Love to injury amid their first-round sweep of the Boston Celtics, then rallied to beat the Chicago Bulls before dismantling the Hawks.

In the finals, which start Thursday, they’ll face a Warriors squad with the best record in the league and the MVP, Stephen Curry.

Despite the turnaround and march to the finals, the blows to Blatt’s reputation have only intensified, with LeBron’s dominance, game-winning shots and customary confidence stealing the show and getting most of the credit. Blatt didn’t help himself by nearly costing the Cavs a crucial victory in the tough series against the Bulls, calling a timeout the team didn’t have — one of his assistants pulled him back before the referees noticed. Making matters worse, moments later LeBron nailed a buzzer beater to win the game — and proceeded to tell the world that he had called the play, overruling Blatt in the process.

Looking back, LeBron’s decision to return to Cleveland may have doomed Blatt’s NBA transition from the start by casting him as second fiddle to the game’s best player, with his outsized personality and extraordinary talent. That doesn’t take away anything from Blatt’s ability.

This week signals a potential shift in the dynamic, as Blatt’s players (including LeBron) have praised him more than they have in the past. And in theory, the finals offer a chance for some face-saving redemption. But in reality, the series is shaping up as a lose-lose situation for Blatt: If the Cavs win, it’s all about LeBron. If they lose – even though the Warriors have played at a historically high level all season – Blatt will be the obvious scapegoat.

At least Blatt has the support of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told him recently that “all of Israel is behind the Cavaliers.”

Israel’s all in for NBA’s Cavaliers, Netanyahu tells coach David Blatt

Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contacted him to offer him Israel’s support in the NBA Finals.

“He said all of Israel is behind the Cavaliers,” Blatt said Sunday, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “That was great.

Blatt,  a dual U.S. and Israeli citizen, is in his first year guiding the Cavs, who will meet the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the best-of-7 championship series on Thursday in Oakland, California. LeBron James, a four-time Most Valuable Player who returned to his native Cleveland area following four seasons in Miami, leads Blatt’s club.

Blatt said he last spoke to Netanyahu last year after coaching Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Euroleague basketball championship. Blatt said he spoke with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2012 after guiding the Russian Olympic team to a bronze medal.

“[T]here’s nothing I would like better than to hear from [President Barack] Obama,” Blatt said. “That sort of covers all the bases, wouldn’t it?”

Blatt grew up in Framingham, Mass., and immigrated to Israel in 1981 to play professional basketball and later coach after a career-ending injury.

Meanwhile, the Israeli news website Ynet reported that the Cavaliers are expected to announce that they will play against Blatt’s former team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, in an exhibition game in October. The Cavs have said they will not make any plans for the future until the end of the championship series.

Is LeBron James coaching David Blatt?

Tonight’s Eastern Conference semifinals Game 5 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls is pivotal for both teams – the best-of-seven series is tied at two games apiece — but it may be the biggest for Cleveland’s Jewish coach, David Blatt.

Blatt, the American-Israeli former coach of Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team, is taking heat for the way he handled the end of Game 4, which his team stole on an improbable buzzer-beater shot from LeBron James. Blatt had tried to call a timeout with a few seconds left, though the Cavs had no timeouts left (the resulting technical foul shots likely would have won the game for the Bulls if the referees had noticed). Then he drew up a play that had James – one of the best players in the history of the game – inbounding the ball rather than taking the final shot.

“To be honest, the play that was drawn up, I scratched it,” James said after the game. “I just told coach, ‘Just give me the ball. We either going to go into overtime or I’ma win it for us.’ It was that simple.”

This essentially validated what many fans had been thinking the entire season: James, and not his rookie coach, runs the team.

It’s fair to blame Blatt for these late-game mistakes, but the level of criticism he has faced all season is suspicious. Sure he’s an outsider – despite his success in the European league, the NBA is on a higher level, and many questioned Cleveland’s decision to hire him.

However, it is also clear that Blatt has not been recognized for holding his team together throughout a turbulent season that saw James get off to a rocky start in his second stint playing in his hometown and injuries to the team’s two other star players, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.

Will tonight’s game be the important rebound Blatt needs to cement his standing? Or will the Israeli outsider remain stuck in rookie purgatory?

Game 5 between Cleveland and Chicago airs tonight at 7 p.m. on TNT.

David Blatt getting a handle on life as NBA coach

With the clock winding down on a recent game here, Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt was still barking out instructions to his players despite enjoying a late 40-point lead over the Washington Wizards.

Things didn’t come quite as easy early this season for the rookie NBA coach and his team, which had great expectations with the return of four-time MVP LeBron James via free agency from the Miami Heat.

Cleveland stumbled to a 19-20 record, leading some pundits to question Blatt’s qualifications for the world’s premier basketball league and minimizing his success with Maccabi Tel Aviv, as well as Russia’s national team. Some also charged that James, who missed a few weeks with a knee injury, was running the team, anyway.

But 18 wins in the past 21 games have shushed the critics and vaulted the Cavaliers to a 37-23 record heading into Sunday, a half-game behind Chicago in the Central Division.

All of which leaves Blatt, James and Co. feeling far better about their season.

“I’ve gone through my own learning curve that I’ve obviously worked through,” Blatt, 55, told JTA in an interview. “Two-thirds through the regular season I’ve become a lot more comfortable, and a lot more cognizant of the things that are necessary to make a winning situation on an NBA team.

“We’ve gone through the normal maturation process of a new team,” he added, referring to a roster with just three holdovers from last season.

The club has actually dealt with two makeovers: the off-season changes that landed James, fellow All-Star forward Kevin Love and several accomplished role players joining Kyrie Irving, a star guard; and the trades since January delivering two new starters in center Timofey Mozgov and guard J.R. Smith, along with valuable reserves Iman Shumpert and Kendrick Perkins.

James’ return from injury and the additions of Mozgov, Smith and Shumpert “were the turning points” this season, Blatt said.

Mozgov, in fact, was a familiar face, having played for Blatt on Russia’s national team and winning a bronze medal together at the 2012 Olympics.

The 7-foot-1 center has adapted well from European basketball to the NBA, Mozgov said.

“The NBA is so different than overseas [basketball], and he’s doing a good job,” Mozgov said. “The coach knows me, he knows how to use players the right way.”

Another Cavalier qualified to compare domestic and overseas hoops is Smith, who played one season in China. The cultural richness experienced by Blatt – the Boston native played professional basketball in Israel and has coached for six countries’ teams, leading Tel Aviv to five national titles and last year’s Euroleague championship – has to be an advantage, Smith said.

“He’s a player’s coach. He’s very into the guys, he cares about his team, he cares about the players off the court just as well as on the court. That’s what you need,” Smith said. “I noticed that right away. My first conversation, he asked how I was doing – not so much as a basketball player but as a person. That’s a great quality.”

James said of his relationship with Blatt, “Every single day it grows. I respect him as a coach, he respects me as a leader of this team and we have some good chemistry right now. We’re going to continue to grow for the betterment of the team.”

The adjustment period Blatt required is understandable, and James said he’s seen steady improvement.

“It’s just like for a rookie NBA player. Guys get better, they know the game, they start to learn it more and more, they know how to approach it every day,” James said. “This is not an easy situation for him. He wasn’t hired with this roster, but I don’t think he’s shied away from it. He knows the game, and I’m happy to have him at the helm.”

Blatt is reveling in the experience. Coaching James is “obviously a great opportunity,” since he’s “a great player and has a fabulously high basketball IQ and a strong, strong desire to win and to help his team,” Blatt said.

“He’s also coming back in a very special kind of situation, coming back home and taking the responsibility of trying to lead a new group to heights that they have not known for quite some time.”

Blatt, who is Jewish, recently went home, too, flying back to Tel Aviv during the All-Star break to see his wife and four children, including twin girls who are college students at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. The family has not yet visited Blatt this season.

“It was great to be back, but it was also great to come back to Cleveland,” he said.

If they maintain their improved play, the Cavaliers are well positioned to challenge for the Eastern Conference’s second seed. Come April, the drama in their opening-round playoff series could be exquisite, with Cleveland possibly facing James’ former Miami squad.

“I think we’ve put ourselves in a good situation for the last part of the season and for the playoffs,” Blatt said. “We’re in pretty good shape.”

Lakers’ Kobe Bryant to have shoulder surgery, season in jeopardy

Kobe Bryant's NBA season could be over after the guard agreed to have surgery on a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, the Los Angeles Lakers said on Monday.

The five-time National Basketball Association champion will have surgery on Wednesday and a timeline for his return will be issued following the procedure, the team said in a statement.

Bryant injured his shoulder last week in a loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans and it could lead to the 16-time NBA All-Star being shut down for the Lakers' final 37 games of the 2014-15 regular season.

The 36-year-old guard was averaging 22.3 points from 35 games this season for a struggling Lakers team that is last in the Pacific Division with a 12-33 record.

Bryant had sat out eight of the Lakers' previous 16 games for “rest” reasons.

The former league most valuable player, who stands fourth on the NBA's all-time scoring list, played in only six games last season due to knee and Achilles tendon injuries as Los Angeles posted a 27-55 record.

Bryant, who joined the Lakers as a first-round pick out of high school as an 18-year-old in 1996, is signed through next season after inking a two-year extension in 2013 for $48.5 million.

Watch some of Kobe Bryant's best career plays:

Kobe Bryant has torn rotator cuff, likely out for season

Five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant has a torn rotator cuff, according to preliminary results of an MRI exam, the Los Angeles Lakers said on Thursday.

Bryant, who hurt his right shoulder on a dunk in the second half of Wednesday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans, will return to Los Angeles later on Thursday and be examined by team doctors on Friday, the team said in a statement.

The high-scoring guard will miss Thursday's game against the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs and the rest of his season could be in jeopardy depending on the severity of the tear.

Bryant, a former league most valuable player, twice an NBA scoring leader and a two-time MVP of the NBA Finals, had sat out eight of the previous 16 games for “rest” reasons and had complained about an achy shoulder.

Asked Thursday before results of the MRI were known if an injury might encourage the team to shut Bryant down for the rest of the season, coach Byron Scott said a lot depended on how Bryant felt.

“He knows his body pretty well,” Scott told the Orange County Register. “He's probably one of the toughest guys in this league as far as playing through injury and through pain.”

The 36-year-old, a 16-time All-Star, is averaging 22.3 points from 35 games this season and is signed through next season after inking a two-year extension in 2013 for $48.5 million.

Bryant, who is fourth on the NBA's all-time scoring list, played in only six games last season due to knee and Achilles tendon injuries as the Lakers struggled to a 27-55 record.

This season, after losing Pau Gasol to free agency and another season to injury for veteran point guard Steve Nash, the Lakers are 12-31, second from last in the Western Conference.

NBA icon Harvey Pollack seriously hurt in auto accident

Harvey Pollack, an iconic figure in the NBA, was seriously injured in a car accident.

Pollack, 92, the director of statistical information for the Philadelphia 76ers, has been hospitalized since the one-car accident on New Year’s Day in Philadelphia. He is unable to communicate and remains in severe pain, his son Ron told JTA on Tuesday morning as Pollack headed into surgery.

Fans attending the 76ers’ home game Monday night, a victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, were asked to keep Pollack in their prayers. Similar sentiments have been conveyed on the team’s game broadcasts.

A member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and considered the unofficial historian of all things throughout the National Basketball Association’s existence, Pollack has worked in professional basketball in his hometown since 1946 – before the league came into being – when he started with the Philadelphia (now Golden State) Warriors.

Even at 92, Pollack has remained a consistent presence courtside at the 76ers arena, compiling statistics during games and collaborating with Ron and grandson Brian, who are stationed elsewhere in the building.

“Harvey is the 76ers,” Lara Price, the club’s vice president for business development, told JTA. “He is our family and we are praying for a fast recovery.”


Hoops guru David Thorpe connects with players on and off the court

Rodney Glasgow catches a pass, pivots, takes one dribble and lays the ball in the basket.

David Thorpe, Glasgow’s coach and trainer for a couple of weeks this summer, steps in to offer some pointers, instructing the former Virginia Military Institute guard to look up after making the catch and how to keep opponents from stealing the ball.

It’s what Thorpe has been doing for nearly three decades out of his Clearwater, Fla., base: identifying and correcting flaws in a basketball player’s game in preparation for a season and, hopefully, a pro career.

For some of his clients — the NBA roster includes Israelis Omri Casspi and Gal Mekel, as well as Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer of the Minnesota Timberwolves — the relationship extends well beyond the court.

Thorpe, Martin says, is “my second father.”

“I get most of my pleasure by the maturing I see among the young men I’m helping, seeing them grow,” Thorpe says. “It nourishes my soul in a way that making a jump shot doesn’t.”

A stream of players flows each summer to Thorpe’s consultancy, Pro Training Center, usually through referrals by their agents or teams.

Mekel, of the Dallas Mavericks, is coming back from a knee injury suffered during his rookie season.

Glasgow has come with an eye toward landing a contract with a European team — which he would do, joining BBC Monthey based in Switzerland. It’s an achievement he credits Thorpe with having “a major part in.”

“He’s a great teacher and mentor,” Glasgow says. “He has this presence about him that is really outgoing. I could see that this person has high character. He got to know me and was really genuine.”

Thorpe, who also provides basketball analysis on the ESPN-owned website TrueHoops.com, coached at Dixie Hollins High School in St. Petersburg, Fla. — a couple of  hours from his native Seminole — before starting out on his own in 1993.

“I really consider myself a basketball coach who just helps these guys get better,” he says.

After joining Maccabi Haifa two years ago, Mekel was directed to Thorpe by Casspi. Mekel, a guard, would lead the team that season to Israel’s national championship and secure league Most Valuable Player honors.

Shortly after the Sacramento Kings selected Casspi in the 2009 NBA draft — he’s now back with the team — a club official sent him to Florida, wanting Thorpe to help improve the forward’s three-point shooting.

Glasgow’s New Jersey-based agent, Justin Haynes, says Thorpe “is the best” at improving a player’s skills and providing “after-care.”

Haynes estimates that he’s sent eight players to train with Thorpe. With Glasgow signing in Switzerland, all have gone on to play professionally.

“Every high-level player wants to be trained by a highly skilled trainer,” Haynes says.

In one session, Thorpe corrects a problem with Glasgow’s shot — more precisely with his mechanics.

Thorpe “was telling me certain tricks so I’d have a higher percentage of making the shot,” in so doing “breaking the game down at a pro level [in a way] that I never received” from coaches in college, says Glasgow, a Washington-area resident.

“That right away did it for me. I knew I was in the right hands. It told me his IQ level was so high.”

By their second week together, the new habit was second nature and “I was shooting much better,” Glasgow says.

He also watched Martin and Casspi working out simultaneously, ingesting “every little thing.”

“David would say it and Kevin would show it,” Glasgow says.

Martin, a guard who first trained with Thorpe as an incoming sophomore at Western Carolina University, is now a 10-year NBA veteran — and has returned every summer.

Thorpe immediately broke his tendency to settle for jump shots, stressing the importance of “getting to the hole and drawing contact,” Martin tells JTA while vacationing in Hawaii.

“I think he knew my calling card was going to be putting the ball in the basket,” says Martin, who has done just that, possessing a 17.9 points-per-game average in the NBA. “He believed in me and saw the traits I have to be successful.”

Thorpe’s work doesn’t end in the summer. In season, slumping players will contact him. After bad games, too.

“When you need me, when you have a bad game, you have to call me,” Thorpe says he tells them.

Thorpe and his assistant, Ryan Pannone, will review game film to hone in on mechanics and identify solutions.

“I tell the guys, ‘I’m just going to be a mirror, reflecting who you are. I’m not going to say you had a good day when you didn’t,’ ” Thorpe says.

He stays close to his charges personally, too. Mekel and Martin attended the recent bar mitzvah of Thorpe’s son Maxwell; Mekel received an aliyah during the Torah reading.

Martin says of Thorpe, “He’s just a guy I could trust. With David I felt the trust and loyalty would always be there.”

Amar’e Stoudemire scoring for United Hatzalah

In this season of good deeds, Amar’e Stoudemire is making a point.

In the upcoming NBA season, United Hatzalah is hoping the New York Knicks’ standout scores plenty of them.

Stoudemire, 31, has launched Amar’e Saves to promote a campaign that encourages youngsters to contribute to the Israeli ambulance service he has adopted as a cause.

A day before Sukkot began, Stoudemire filmed a video in his Manhattan apartment for the effort.

The campaign urges pledges by kids, individually or as a group, notably by tying donations to every point Stoudemire scores during the 2014-15 season. The Knicks will open Oct. 29 at home against the Chicago Bulls.

By Sunday, the campaign had 117 donors and $534 pledged per point.

Those raising the most funds will qualify for such prizes as Knicks’ tickets and a meet-and-greet with Stoudemire.

“Helping save lives is always a beautiful thing,” Stoudemire told JTA after filming with several New York-area Jewish teenagers. “It’s obviously something we all want to think about doing more of, but the fact that United Hatzalah has a much quicker rate for responding to emergencies is also very important.

“In today’s society, which is so fast, we need to be doing something about saving lives quicker, and United Hatzalah is doing that.”

Stoudemire became involved in the organization through his friendship with New York financier David Kleinhandler, like Stoudemire a co-owner of Israel’s Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team.

In an exclusive interview with JTA last year, Stoudemire discussed his spiritual connection to Judaism and his belief that he’s a member of the “Hebrew tribe.”

Stoudemire, a six-time all-star, is hoping to overcome the rash of injuries that relegated him to the bench last season.

After all, more playing time means more points — and more charitable contributions.


LeBron returns, Blatt bests former team as Cavs cruise past Maccabi Tel Aviv

The Cleveland Cavaliers in LeBron James’ return to his hometown NBA team routed Maccabi Tel Aviv in a game that pitted the Cavs’ new coach, David Blatt, against his former squad.

On Sunday, James scored 12 points in playing only the first half of the 107-80 victory over the 2014 Euroleague and Israel Super Basketball League champions.

The exhibition game had been scheduled long before Blatt signed on as Cavs’ coach in June. For Blatt, it was his NBA coaching debut.

‘I was nervous before the game, but not because it was the first time I coached in the NBA,” Blatt told reporters after the game. “I was playing against my friends.”

James, who returned to Cleveland as a free agent after spending four seasons with the Miami Heat, has been bothered by back problems.

More than a dozen of the credentialed reporters were from Israel, including the major newspapers and television stations, according to the Cleveland Jewish News. Blatt conducted a second news conference in Hebrew for the Israeli media following the game.

The game was also billed as Jewish Community Night.

About 50 pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated outside Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena before the game over comments Blatt made to an Israeli newspaper in the summer in support of Israel’s military operation in Gaza.


Bruce Levenson: Worse — and better — than Donald Sterling

Read the email that cost Bruce Levenson his ownership of the NBA franchise the Atlanta Hawks. It’s ten times less raw and salacious than Donald Sterling’s racist rant to his mistress. At the same time, its ten times worse.

This wasn’t a man allegedly suffering dementia, telling his mistress — in the heat of a private jealous rage — not to bring black guys to the game, as Sterling, the longtime owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, did. This was Levenson, explaining to the team’s general manager what steps had already been taken to make the arena experience feel less black in order to attract more white fans.

When the Sterling mess hit the fan, Levenson told a local radio station that he had “zero tolerance for this sort of bigoted racial comment and I’ve conveyed that to [NBA commissioner Adam Silver] and the league.”

Well, when it came to courting ticket-buyers, it turns out Levenson had plenty of tolerance for such attitudes.

Why were season-ticket sales low? “My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a [significant] season ticket base,” he wrote to Ferry.

Levenson quickly added that talk of the arena being unsafe was “just racist garbage” and  “when I hear some people saying the arena is in the wrong place I think it is code for there are too many blacks at the games.”

But, in so many words, business is business. And you know what’s bad for business? According to Levenson: too much hip hop and gospel music at the games, too many black cheerleaders, too many blacks on the kiss cam and too many blacks in the stands.

So how is Levenson better than Sterling? The controlling owner of the Hawks appears to have self-reported the email in question, offered about as strong an apology as possible and is taking responsibility for what he wrote and did by deciding to sell the team without a fight:

… In trying to address those issues [about a relatively small fan base], I wrote an e-mail two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive.  I trivialized our fans by making clichéd assumptions about their interests (i.e. hip hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e. that white fans might be afraid of our black fans). By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.

If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be. I’m angry at myself, too. It was inflammatory nonsense. We all may have subtle biases and preconceptions when it comes to race, but my role as a leader is to challenge them, not to validate or accommodate those who might hold them.

I have said repeatedly that the NBA should have zero tolerance for racism, and I strongly believe that to be true.  That is why I voluntarily reported my inappropriate e-mail to the NBA.

After much long and difficult contemplation, I have decided that it is in the best interests of the team, the Atlanta community, and the NBA to sell my controlling interest in the Hawks franchise. …

After listening to his condemnation of Sterling and reading his email to Ferry, it would be easy to dismiss Levenson as a self-righteous hypocrite. But given his handling of the situation, you just as easily could call him self-reflective and honorable (if the official story turns out to be true).

It’s hard to imagine the L.A. branch of the NAACP ever rescheduling that Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony for Sterling. But if he keeps up this level of T’shuvah, Levenson might just earn himself another BBYO speech.

NBA Hawks’ owner to sell control of team, cites racially insensitive remarks

The owner of the Atlanta Hawks announced on Sunday he would sell his controlling interest in the National Basketball Association franchise because of racially insensitive remarks he made, in an echo of a scandal involving the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team.

Hawks owner Bruce Levenson said fans have a right to be angry about an internal email he wrote two years ago about the need to boost arena attendance and how black and white fans differed in what they preferred to see at Hawks' games.

“In trying to address those issues, I wrote an e-mail two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive,” Levenson said in a statement released by the team.

“If you're angry about what I wrote, you should be. I'm angry at myself, too. It was inflammatory nonsense. We all may have subtle biases and preconceptions when it comes to race, but my role as a leader is to challenge them, not to validate or accommodate those who might hold them,” he added.

His e-mail to team general manager Danny Ferry, which addressed ways to boost the number of season ticket holders, delved into racial makeup of fans at the Hawks arena and suggested that southern white men might not be comfortable in an arena with a high percentage of African American fans.

Levenson's announcement came just over four months after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, in an unprecedented move, banned then Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league and fined him $2.5 million for making racist remarks.

Sterling had been heard, in taped private comments, imploring a female friend not to associate with black people.

The Levenson episode was especially striking as it unfolded in one of the nation's largest majority-black cities, a center of African-American culture, wealth and political power and the birthplace of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The Clippers saga ended last month when former Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer took over as the new owner of the franchise after completing a $2 billion purchase.

Prior to that sale, the Clippers were ranked by business magazine Forbes as the 13th most valuable NBA team with a value of $575 million in January. By contrast, the Hawks ranked 27th among the 30 NBA teams, with a value in January of $425 million and total revenue of $119 million.


NBA Commissioner Silver said in a statement Levenson had notified the league in July of his August 2012 e-mail, and the NBA then launched an independent investigation into the circumstances of the remarks.

“Prior to the completion of the investigation, Mr. Levenson notified me last evening that he had decided to sell his controlling interest in the Atlanta Hawks,” Silver said.

While he commended Levenson for reporting the e-mail and for cooperating with the league in its investigation, Silver also criticized the remarks themselves as in “stark contrast to the core principles of the National Basketball Association.”

Levenson, in describing his own remarks, said his words went against his public views on racism, adding that by focusing on race he had sent an unintentional and harmful message that white fans were more valuable than black fans.

He said his e-mail also trivialized fans by making clichéd assumptions about their interests in music and having black versus white cheerleaders, and stereotyped their perceptions of one another in suggesting white fans might be afraid of blacks.

Hawks' CEO Steve Koonin, who will oversee team operations during the sale process, said he would work in partnership with the NBA to ensure “a new ownership team will be put in place that is united and committed to the Atlanta community.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed decried Levenson's published remarks as contrary to “the city of Atlanta's history of diversity and inclusion” and hailed the “NBA's efforts to enforce a no-tolerance policy” against discrimination.

Civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton issued a statement encouraging Silver “to continue vetting all (NBA) owners.”

Last season, the Hawks finished eighth in the 15-team Eastern Conference standings with a win-loss record of 38-44.

Their attendance record is among the lowest in the league. The franchise won its only NBA championship in 1958 as the St. Louis Hawks.

Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles, and Victoria Cavaliere in Seattle; Editing by Paul Simao, Frances Kerry and Jeremy Laurence

For ex-WNBA chief Donna Orender, NBA breakthrough for women a show of respect

As a former WNBA president who played in what is considered the first U.S. professional basketball league for women, Donna Orender has been eager for a trailblazing female to join the National Basketball Association in a prominent role.

So she was plenty pleased last week when the world champion San Antonio Spurs hired Becky Hammon, a point guard with the WNBA’s Stars of the Texas city, as a paid assistant coach – a first in NBA history.

“Becky’s a special woman, a great player, a student of the game,” Orender said last week of the veteran backcourt ace. “I always thought that the real breakthrough would be a woman coaching in the NBA because it would indicate a real level of respect. I was always waiting for it.”

Waiting and helping to pave the way.

Orender, an All-America guard at Queens College, was one of the few to play all three seasons of the Women’s Professional Basketball League, from 1978 to 1981. She led the Women’s NBA from 2006 to 2011, enjoying “incredible respect amongst those of us in the business,” recently retired NBA Commissioner David Stern said.

Now with a nonprofit organization, Generation W, she is mentoring girls and young women, including by hosting an annual forum of experts in politics, philanthropy, business and self-improvement. The group also provides guidance on getting into college and making a difference in the world through voluntarism.

Orender, 57, herself serves on the boards of Maccabi USA and the V Foundation for Cancer Research (established in memory of collegiate basketball coach Jim Valvano), and was co-chair of the Sports for Youth committee of the UJA-Federation of New York.

During Orender’s eight-year tenure, Sports for Youth more than tripled its annual fundraising, to $450,000 annually, said its director, Danielle Zalaznick.

“She’s an amazing leader. She has very creative ideas,” Zalaznick said.

Orender puts those ideas to use now as the principal of Orender Unlimited, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based firm that conducts strategic planning and marketing for companies.

Sports, however, remain central to her life. It was in that arena that Orender made her professional mark, despite setting out to be a social worker or sociologist.

After doing research at ABC for such sportscasters as Jim Lampley and the venerable Jim McKay, Orender worked 17 years as an executive for the PGA Tour, the main organizer of professional golf tournaments primarily for men, before taking the reins of the WNBA. Established by the NBA nearly two decades ago, the WNBA remains the most prominent female sports league in the country.

It was her track record from the playing and financial sides that appealed to Stern when he hired Orender for the post.

Orender, he told JTA, understood basketball “from the ground up.”

“She was a great basketball player. She was an early player in a league back then and has a passion for the game,” Stern said. “She was a ranking person in the PGA who got to know everything about our sponsorship and our business, and had an understanding of production and production values.”

Ann Meyers Drysdale, a longtime friend with whom she starred in the backcourt of the WBL’s New Jersey Gems, says she and Orender still talk about the WNBA and its role in further advancing women’s athletics. Meyers Drysdale, a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, is an executive with both the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.

For Orender, basketball also holds importance for her family and its Jewish identity through involvement in the Maccabi movement.

“I love the game,” she said. “It’s a passion of mine. It helps me stay close to youth, Judaism and also connect with my own kids.”

Orender accompanied her 17-year-old twins, Zachary and Jacob, and their Maccabi USA youth team on a nine-game, 12-day trip earlier this summer to play Maccabi and club teams in London, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. Their itinerary included Jewish heritage sites and a game against a Dutch team of wheelchair-using athletes, with the able-bodied Americans also using wheelchairs.

Basketball was a means of “spreading good will, developing relationships and meeting some of our Maccabi brethren overseas,” said Orender, who also has two stepchildren.

Last summer, the Orender twins played in Israel in the Maccabiah, a quadrennial international sports festival, just as their mother had in 1985. As they entered Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek Stadium for the opening ceremony, her sons grabbed Orender’s hand and said, “This must be a dream for you.”

“It absolutely is,” she responded.

Hammon, whose 15-year WNBA career will conclude this summer, was “one of my kids’ favorite players,” Orender said, and they saw Hammon in action numerous times when Orender led the WNBA.

Mother and sons often shoot baskets and break down game film. Orender concedes that “it’s very hard” to keep mum during games and let the boys’ coaches do their jobs.

She’ll offer help if they ask, and they do, often seeking tips on in-game strategy, shooting and making decisions on passing in the flow of a game, Orender said.

She seems to revel in the entire sports experience. Orender recalls an Indiana Fever home playoff game while serving as WNBA president when she climbed to the top rows and gazed upon the sold-out arena.

“It was a very proud moment that really showcased the fan passion, the ability to grow a business, the athletes,” she said.