You probably often wonder exactly how many Jewish players are in the NBA. The percentage is not really a high number. In fact it is only 1.8% according to a Pew Research Center study. The community is hardworking and is dedicated to the sport of basketball every since they were integrated into the NBA.
David Stern, former NBA commissioner opened the doors for more international players to join the NBA, making sure that the sport was broadcasted around the world during his tenure. Because of this and beyond just the country of Israel, the sport of professional basketball has become an international sport and sensation around the world.
Oscar Benhamin Schectman is said to have been the first Jewish basketball player ever to step foot onto an NBA court. However, there have been others in history who have followed him including Art Heyman, Ernie Grunfeld, Nat Holman, Red Holzman, Rudy LaRusso, Dolph Schayes, Moe Spahn, and Max Zaslofsky.
Today’s NBA Jewish Stars
Deni Avdija was the ninth overall pick in the 2023 NBA draft to play for the Washington Wizards. He is 20 years old and was born in Beit Zara Israel. His mother is Jewish Israeli, ran track and field, and played basketball. His father is a Yugoslavian Muslim who was a member of the Yugoslavian basketball team. When he was growing up, Den played for Israel’s elite basketball club which won a few straight championships from 2018-2020. He even won MVP for his efforts.
Omri Casspi is said to be a pretty unorthodox player. However, it’s because of his style that this 30-year old player has made an impact on the sport. He was a teenage star back in Israel in the same school that Devi Avdija played for. He also played for the Israli Olympic basketball team in 2019 in Tokyo. However, it’s off the court that Omri is said to have been someone to look up to. He promotes goodwill trips to Israel and educates anyone who is interested or will listen about his childhood home near Tel Aviv, Israel.
Ryan Turell is player for the Detroit Motor City Cruise NBA minor league basketball team. He is a 23-year old Orthodox Jew who hopes to become the first of such to play in the NBA in the future. To prove this fact, he actually wears his yarmulke on the court. Why is this? Because he sees himself as a role model and why not show that if someone like him can play basketball, why can’t others? Luckily for him, the team management has been very accommodating to his kosher needs.
Jordan Farmar was born in Israel but ended up going to a Hebrew School in Tanzania. His mother is Jewish and his father is not, but played minor league baseball. Sadly, they divorced but it didn’t stop Jordan from pursuing his dreams. Jordan went to UCLA where we played so well that he was named Pac-10 Freshman of the year in 2004-04 and First-Team All-Pac-10 honors in 2005-06. He has played for many teams in his life in various places including Turkey and Maccabi Tel Aviv. NBA-wise he has played for the L.A. Lakers, L.A. Clippers, New York Nets, Memphis Grizzlies and the Sacramento Kings.
Amar’e Stoudemire is a Jewish convert who became inspired to do so after meeting engaging with the community and meeting former Israeli President Shimon Perez. He is one of the most well-known and successful players in the NBA including six All-Star Game appearances, for all-NBA Second Team inclusions an NBA Rookie of the Year Award and more.
There are several more basketball players that could be named here. However, this gives a taste as to the quality of talent that is out there and has been out there over the years when it comes to Jewish basketball players. With the NBA becoming such an international sport, there will be more interested Jewish players and supporters of the sport in years to come.