‘The First Basket’

I just watched this new documentary.

The Jewish population in America increased dramatically during the last decade of the 19th Century. As the immigrants poured in from Europe, they discovered that their new home was sports crazy and that athletic competition was a way to assimilate.

When I think about the value of a mitzvah and the value of a basket, well, there’s no comparison, so it makes me sad as I watch this film about Jews abandoning the shul and the Sabbath to follow the ways of the goyim.

The doc gets various Jewish scholars to talk about Jewish physicality in the Bible. Yeah, that’s all true, Samson did shtup a lot of Philistine sheilas, but sports plays no role in the Bible of the Jews. It’s the Christian scriptures, the so-called "New Testament" that keeps referring to sports. That’s because Christianity comes out of Hellenism more than Judaism.

The ideal Jewish man is a Torah scholar and a blogger, not a practicioner of narishkeit such as basketball (unless it is used a brief diversion from one’s studies so one can return refreshed to the sacred text).

My favorite parts of the movie are the naughty bits. No, I’m not talking about the sturdy application of the Hebrew Hammer to the vulnerable regions of the shiksa.

In the 1930s, basketball was often called "Jew Ball." It was known as the "Jewish game."

Two main sports came out of the Jewish ghetto — boxing and basketball. The latter triumphed.

Paul Gallico from the New York Daily News argued that Jews made good basketball players because Jews are basically sneaky, conniving people.

Gallico wrote: "Curiously, above all others, [basketball] appeals to the temperament of the Jews. While a good Jewish football player is a rarity. . . Jews flock to basketball by the thousands, because it places a premium on an alert, scheming mind. . . flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness."

A Jewish sports editor wrote: "No other sport so required the characteristics inherent in the Jew; mental agility, perception, imagination and subtlety."

And as the Reverend Reggie White would say, "Whites are good at making money and Indians are good at sneaking up on people."

Later, the documentary discusses the role of Jewish players accepting bribes to manipulate college basketball scores vis-a-vis the point spread (such as at City College of New York). This practice was widespread in the Catskills aka the Jewish Alps.

Teams "with Jews and negroes" were regarded as particularly susceptible to bribery.

When he was at Brooklyn College, Dennis Prager reports in his essay on "Jews and Cheating" that Jewish students were regarded as more likely to cheat.

I spent nine of my first eleven years in Australia (the other two in England). I wasn’t much into sports. I liked playing them but I didn’t follow them professionally. We didn’t have a TV in the house and we didn’t follow sports or entertainment on the radio. Occasionally at school, the teacher would put on the tele and we’d have the test cricket playing. But it didn’t mean much.

I guess my family was isolated from the larger Australian culture. Seventh-Day Adventism was a more rigorous, more Ellen White driven thing down under.

We moved to Pacific Union College (a Seventh-Day Adventist institution) in California’s Napa Valley in May 1977. I spent most of the next four months in the PUC library reading serious adult books of history.

Then I entered sixth grade at the PUC Elementary School. I was weird and socially isolated. I’ve been like a lost puppy all my life.

After my mom got sick in 1967 (she died of cancer in 1970), my home fractured and was not a happy place. I longed to be adopted by the happy families I met (though when I thought it through rationally, I was convinced that my parents were best for me).

My teachers and school librarian wanted me to fit in better. They wanted me to read books of interest to kids my age. So I started reading kids books and most of them were on sports. I devoured dozens and was particularly impressed by the stories of Roger Staubach and Tom Landry, good Christians and leaders of the Dallas Cowboys.

Then I went up to the PUC library and read all the back issues of Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek and Life. I became sports mad and crazed about sex. I got a radio and stuck it under my pillow and listened to sporting contests late at night when my parents weren’t around.

My dad said that being a sports fan was a form of idolatry. I didn’t care. I loved sports. I wanted to love girls but none of the cute ones let me.

My fanatacism about sports surpassed that of kids my age. I became closer to some parents who read as much about sports as I did. "I never met a kid who knows as much about sports as you do," said one.

I guess I could’ve used sports to bond with my schoolmates but instead I ran away from them. I finished five marathons in 1978 and dreamed I’d become world champ one day.

Didn’t happen. My knees went bum and I had to stop running.

Once again, I had the chance to bond, but instead I used my brain to accumulate information and put others down. Surprisingly, this did not make for popularity. Chicks didn’t want to kiss me because I could recite all the Super Bowl winners.

In 1985, I covered a couple of San Francisco 49er games at Candlestick park. We sportswriters were allowed on to the sideline for the last few minutes of the contest. The game looks completely different from ground level. The players no longer look so super-human, so machine-like. The game doesn’t appeared as organized. It’s deglamorized.

I’d look around the stadium at tens of thousands of people going nuts. They’d love to be where I am. I’d stare at the cheerleaders and became particularly enamored of these Asian hardbodies. Then I’d go into the lockerrooms to interview the players. Most of the time they were naked. Many of them were shorter than I was.

Sports no longer seemed like such a big deal.

Sex was, however.

I spent years in the PUC library looking for the naughty pictures in Sports Illustrated and Life magazines. The 1960s boasted the topless swimming suit and it got generous coverage in Life. Unfortunately, most of the good stuff got ripped out before I could feast my eyes on it. The S.I. bathing suit issue never even made it out to general circulation.

I loved books about 1920s Weimar Germany. There were usually lots of breasts in these books that made it past the Adventist censors. I resolved that when I’d get big, I’d watch sports on the tele and look at the all the breasts I wanted.

I fulfilled my ambition. I grew up to report on the porn industry. But it left me empty inside.

There’s no happy ending to this story. Sports and porn never helped me assimilate. At age 42, I’m still a lost puppy. I wasted thousands of hours of my life following narishkeit, time I could’ve better devoted to more serious pursuits and to hotter chicks.

Jason Maoz writes:

Finally, no look back at the Jewish contribution to pro basketball would be complete without acknowledging the pioneering radio voices of Marty Glickman with the Knicks (when the home team scored Glickman would famously exult – plugging the chain of hot dog and orange drink outlets that sponsored the broadcasts – "It’s good, like Nedicks!") and Johnny Most (originally Moskowitz) with the Boston Celtics. Glickman and Most led the way for Bill Mazer, Marv Albert (followed by brothers Steve and Al), Spencer Ross, and other Jews who would achieve national prominence in pro basketball broadcast booths.
After all these years the NBA still has a considerable Jewish presence, but more than ever it’s one found almost exclusively among writers, broadcasters and owners – the latter category including, but hardly limited to, Micky Arison (Miami Heat), Steve Belkin (Atlanta Hawks), Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks), William Davidson (Detroit Pistons), Abe Pollin (Washington Wizards), Bruce Ratner (New Jersey Nets) and Jerry Reinsdorf (Chicago Bulls).
As we’ve seen, however, the story could not be more different when it comes to those who actually play the game. The time when basketball was, in the words of historian Peter Levine, "so dominated by Jews that some called it the Jewish game" has all but vanished into the misty province of faded photographs and grainy newsreels, as the sepia-toned memories die one by one along with those who lived them.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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