When Gelf spoke with Goodman last year, he expressed his gratitude at being able to combine his two greatest interests, basketball and Israel. Recently, though, he announced that he would leave Israel's second-division Maccabi Shoham club to join the Maryland Nighthawks, one of 10 teams within the just-formed Premier Basketball League, a US pro league set to compete with the struggling ABA.
"I feel like I have an opportunity to make history as the first professional basketball player in America to not play on Shabbat."
Though he plans to return to Israel someday, Goodman says he simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to be the first Orthodox Jew to play professional basketball in the US. (And he did just that, playing in the team's first two games before dislocating his finger.) Gelf caught up with Goodman as he drove to practice from his home in Baltimore, and chatted about his reasons for leaving Israel, how Baltimore has changed since he left, and his love of fast-break basketball. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Gelf Magazine: Did you get in touch with the Nighthawks, or did they contact you? How did the move come about?
Tamir Goodman: It kind of went together. Somebody in their organization was talking about me, and I had heard about them. I loved what [Nighthawks co-owner and PBL President] Tom Doyle said to me on the phone, and I love where he's going with the PBL. I wouldn't have to play on Shabbatgrowing up as a kid in America I never thought I'd be able to play pro ball because of Shabbat. So I can't thank the organization enough.
GM: When we spoke last year, you said, "I thank God everyday that I'm able to play basketball professionally in Israel," and "I love being able to serve God here. I love it. I feel more and more at home here." Why did you leave Israel?
TG: I left Israel because I feel like I have an opportunity to make history, to be the first professional basketball player in America to not play on Shabbat. I did it in college, playing in Division I; I did it in Israel; and now it's another door to knock down. Again, I love where the PBL is going with their league. And I feel I'm representing Israel; even if I'm not there physically, I'm spiritually there.
GM: How difficult was it for them to create a schedule that wouldn't interfere with Shabbat? Could they do it independently, or did they have to involve the PBL administration?
TG: Originally the schedule wasn't even that far off. Thank God I've only missed one or two games the whole season. I'm not sure if Doyle did it independently or not. I've pretty much only been involved with him and [Goodman's agent] Glenn Schwartzman. [Editor's Note: Schwartzman tells Gelf that the league management was quick to accommodate Goodman's request "because of the other things he could bring."]
The accommodation is very, very special, and the feedback has been amazing from everywhere, especially in the Jewish community, because we treasure Shabbat so much. When a non-Jewish organization respects that in a field where it hasn't been done before, such as basketball, it's that much more special.
GM: Is your return to the US permanent?
TG: We're going to go back to Israel at some point. We're just working on some things: the PBL, the Tamir Goodman Leadership Camp. It's the first summer camp to bring together African Americans and Jewish players. We're going to bring Jewish players from all over the country to play against Baltimore's top African-American players. They're all high-school kids. We're on a mission to do as much good as possible with my family while I'm here, doing camps, clinics, and speaking engagements. That's another good thing about the PBL: Mr. Doyle's allowed me to do all thisand I love working with kidsso it's a dream come true.
GM: What do you hope to achieve with the Nighthawks that you couldn't in Israel?
TG: I'm the type of person who lives every day to the fullest. Every practice, every interview to the utmost. After that I just leave it up to God. I don't really make specific goals because it's not in my control; what's in my control is to be the best I can be and let God take over. I never knew last year when we spoke that I'd be in America this year [laughs]. God takes me where I need to be.
GM: To what extent do you think your signing is a publicity stunt designed to bring attention to the new league?
TG: I'm having a great time being part of the PBL and The Nighthawks. I only focus on what I need to do to help the Nighthawks as much as I can.
GM: How does the PBL compare to the Israeli league in level of play?
TG: It's a totally different style of play. Here it's more instinctive, more reading the defense and reacting and playing, whereas overseas it's a lot more running the plays all the way to the end, a lot more structured. There're less fast breaks over there.
GM: Which style of play do you enjoy more?
TG: I enjoy it here much more. I think my best God-given talents are a lot better suited to playing here. I've learned to play so structured, but it's more fun this way.
GM: Does the "Jewish Jordan" thing still haunt you?
TG: Nothing really personally haunts me. I'm very in tune with who I am, and what God expects me to do. Almost every interview I do people ask me about it. I tell them the same thing I'm telling you: I'm very fortunate to do what I'm doing. Not many people can do that, and I'm very grateful.
GM: Why are people so enamored with the idea of a "Jewish Jordan?"
TG: I don't knowI never brought it on myself. I don't think it's fair to ever be compared to Michael Jordan. Like every other person, I'm just trying to use my talent to the best I can. For me it's basketball, and I try to use it in the right way. That's it that's what I try to do.
GM: What's changed at home since you've been away?
TG: Actually, everything is looking the same. There're a couple more kosher restaurants in Baltimore than when I left.