The Chosen Game: A Jewish Basketball History

The Chosen Game: A Jewish Basketball History

The Chosen Game: A Jewish Basketball History

The Chosen Game: A Jewish Basketball History


A few years after its invention by James Naismith, basketball became the primary sport in the crowded streets of the Jewish neighborhood on New York’s Lower East Side. Participating in the new game was a quick and enjoyable way to become Americanized. Jews not only dominated the sport for the next fifty-plus years but were also instrumental in modernizing the game.

Barney Sedran was considered the best player in the country at the City College of New York from 1909 to 1911. In 1927 Abe Saperstein took over management of the Harlem Globetrotters, playing a key role in popularizing and integrating the game. Later he helped found the American Basketball Association and introduced the three-point shot. More recently, Nancy Lieberman played in a men’s pro summer league and became the first woman to coach a men’s pro team, and Larry Brown became the only coach to win both NCAA and the NBA championships.

While the influence of Jewish players, referees, coaches, and administrators has gradually diminished since the mid-1950s, the current basketball scene features numerous Jews in important positions.

Through interviews and lively anecdotes from franchise owners, coaches, players, and referees, The Chosen Game explores the contribution of Jews to the evolution of present-day pro basketball.


With his appearance wearing a Sacramento Kings uniform in the team’s opening game of the 2006–7 season, Omri Casspi became the first Israeli-born hooper to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA). During his initial six years in what players call the League, Casspi proved to be a useful, if not a star-quality, performer. Still, as someone who’s at least as interested in his Jewish heritage as he is in his on-court performance, Casspi famously connected his two passions in the summer of 2015.

That’s when he arranged for three of his Sacramento teammates (DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, and Caron Butler), along with several other of his nba contemporaries (Chandler Parsons, Tyreke Evans, Iman Shumpert, and Alan Anderson), to undertake a weeklong visit to Casspi’s homeland. “You sit around a locker room, and you talk about your home,” said Casspi. “I always tell my teammates, ‘Come see my side of the world. I go to your houses. Come meet my parents, my brother, my sister.’ It’s literally as simple as that. On cnn, all you see is war. ‘Come see for yourself.’”

Escorted everywhere by a security detail, the players’ itinerary included visits to Jerusalem and the Holocaust Museum as well as a breakfast meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Followed by several dozen admiring youngsters wherever they went . . .

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