by Earl K. Sneed

How many times have we heard ballers known as the next Jordan, forcing talented athletes to try to live up to a brand that should have never been placed on them to begin with? There is only one MJ, yet year after year we place that ‘Heir to His Airness’ tag on players that could not begin to sniff MJ’s Jordan 11s even if they camped out in line to scoop them.

LeBron and Kobe have run away from the Jordan comparisons, but Tamir Goodman doesn’t. Who you may ask? The Jewish Jordan. Goodman doesn’t run away from that title, but instead he relishes it.

“I never brought it upon myself, I just use it to do good across the world,” the 6-3, Orthodox Jew says about having the Jordan name over his head. “Jordan is my favorite player of all time. I just use it as more name recognition so I can do more for the world and more for my community.”

Goodman sees the world a little differently than most. You see Tamir grow up with six brothers and two sisters in Baltimore, Maryland, so you could say that’s where he first learned how to “be more” than what expectations maybe set for him. You may not be familiar with a lot of Jewish players, but neither was Tamir.

He first picked up the ball at age five, and little did he know that it would be the start of something special. The kid would go on to gain national publicity after averaging 35.4 points per game as a high school junior at B-More’s Talmudical Academy, earning a scholarship to play for the Terps at the University of Maryland.

But playing for U of M would mean making sacrifices that Tamir was not willing to compromise, because it would require him to break the rules and customs of Orthodox Judaism by practicing and playing in games on Friday nights and Saturdays, the Sabbath of the Judaism faith. The news would attract more than 700 media request.

“As a Jewish person growing up in America, we thank America after all of the persecution that our people have been through. I don’t take that for granted. At the same time, I love being Israeli, so it means so much not to have to play on the Jewish Sabbath. I never thought I would be able to play ball in America, or play in college or professionally, so I love what America has been able to do for me,” Goodman said.

Tamir was released from his verbal commitment to Maryland in 1999 since the university could not meet his religious needs. He adversely accepted a scholarship to play at Baltimore County’s Towson University, where he lasted until midway through his sophomore season after not seeing eye-to-eye with a coach that he viewed as anti-Semitic.

If you can’t tell, Tamir’s Jewish faith means a lot to him. So in 2002, Tamir left the states to play for three teams in three years in Israel. You would think his story would stop there, but you would only assume that if you had never spoken with Tamir. For those of us that have had the pleasure of speaking with him, the next bit of information is not shocking. He decided to serve in the Israeli army, which is a requirement for all Israeli citizens. Tamir didn’t complain. He didn’t catch the first plane back to the states. Instead he served his time, and even after suffering a knee injury and going through nine months of physical therapy, he returned to the court to complete his contract with the Giva’t Shmuel.

In December of 06’, Tamir went down again with a left knee injury causing him to be out until March of 07’. The injury may have quietly opened up a door for Tamir to live another dream. Later in 07’, Tamir returned to the streets of Maryland, where he had made his name, but now he was a pro. He would suit up for the Premier Basketball League’s Maryland Nighthawks.

“Judaism teaches us that everyone has a gift and a direction. God’s direct for me is basketball. It’s a blessing from God for me to have been able to do what I have and I try to live it to the fullest,” Goodman said.

Now 26, married with two kids, Tamir decided to follow the next direction he says God wants him to go, signing Monday to play for the Maccabi Haifa Heat, an Israeli Premier League team that recently held the first US open tryout in the league’s history in Florida.

After finishing a 2-day training camp with the team, Tamir says he is on eggshells awaiting the start of the team’s full training camp on Aug. 28. The team which is one of the original eight teams to have formed the Premier League in 1953, is now under the ownership of Triangle Financial Services LLC, and company Chairman, Jeffrey Rosen, who in one season took the team to a fourth place finish in Liga Leumit and a upset best-of-five semi-finals 3-1 series victory over top-seeded Barak Netanya. It is Rosen’s commit to success, and their shared views of Jewish communalism that makes the Haifa Heat the perfect fit to Tamir.

“(The Haifa Heat) want to bridge the gap, which is exactly what I envision,” Goodman said of embarking on the next stop on his journey of Judaism and basketball. “They have plans to broadcast all of the games on the internet with an American broadcaster so all of the Jewish Americans and fans can follow everything.”

“Basketball is such a globalizing game,” Goodman added that it is evident by the decision of many NBA players to leave the states for the Euro leagues. “It’s really a blessing to be able to share it with the world and represent your faith.”

It is easy to see why Tamir doesn’t run from the Jordan comparisons, becomes in many ways he transcends the game for his community, like Jordan did for the game of basketball. Every year you’ll find Tamir holding his Tamir Goodman Athletic Leadership Basketball Camp, a camp that brings together Jewish and Black players to grow the two communities and cultures together, and his Tamir Goodman Charities non-profit organization aids Israeli children affected by Katyusha rockets that have been launched at the city of Sderot. Clearly he’s more than just basketball.

“Every single kid has something special about them, and they all have special blessings,” Goodman said. “I just want to teach kids to use their blessings to do something special for the world.”

Meet Tamir Goodman, the Jewish Jordan.

Photo courtesy of Michael Strader Marko.