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Will There Ever Be a Jewish Jordan?

News came last week that Tamir Goodman, once a prospect so heralded at the high school level that he earned the moniker "The Jewish Jordan" before he was old enough to buy cigarettes, was retiring from basketball after a career … Read More

By / September 24, 2009

News came last week that Tamir Goodman, once a prospect so heralded at the high school level that he earned the moniker "The Jewish Jordan" before he was old enough to buy cigarettes, was retiring from basketball after a career that did not, alas, lead him to become the greatest player in the NBA. Sadly, he never achieved his goal of even making the league.

While this is unsurprising- it is a nearly impossible standard to reach Michael Jordan’s eminence, even with the relative modifier "Jewish" in front of the namesake- what I find most interesting is just how quickly the Jewish community affixed this nickname to Goodman.

We are, as a people, desperate for our iconic modern sports hero. It’s been a while since we had one.

That is not to say there aren’t prominent Jews in sports today. As I have traveled around the country, giving talks about my book, The Baseball Talmud, I have been quick to point out that 2009 contained the most Jewish players in any single season of Major League Baseball.

And many of those players are not mere journeymen: Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Braun and Ian Kinsler have all been standout hitters, while Scott Feldman and Jason Marquis have excelled in particular on the mound.

But what has struck me among the people I’ve met during my tour is the reverence for Sandy Koufax. It is at a level that surpasses even the Jewish baseball fan’s love for Youkilis locally in Boston, or for Braun in Milwaukee. He was an icon.

And so was Greenberg. Take a look at Philip Roth’s description in "The Conversion of the Jews" of a Hebrew school’s free discussion period.

It was a gusty, clouded November afternoon and it did not seem as though there ever was or could be a thing called baseball. So nobody this week said a word about that hero from the past, Hank Greenberg–which limited free discussion considerably.

Who among the Jewish people could so predominate today? No one. And American sport represents the path for such a person- musical taste is so fragmented, for instance, and politics so adult, but success in sport, coupled with identification with Judaism, would be the pathway for such a unifying force in Jewish life.

This is not to say such a person is guaranteed to appear. After all, it has been more than 40 years since Koufax retired, and it has yet to happen. We are fragmented as a society like never before, between disparate sources for news, information and entertainment, to even greaternumbers of pathways to definebeing Jewish in the 21st century.

But the haste with which Tamir Goodman was named "The Jewish Jordan" says to me that there is still a passion for such a figure among the Jewish people.

And for those who say it will never happen, I can only think to a few years ago, when I wondered, as a progressive, if I’d ever get to experience a leader who inspired my politics and made history. My mother and father had JFK, my grandparents FDR. Who would be that leader for my generation? Or had politics become too disparate, too intensely focused upon, for such a person?

American life constantly updates in ways that surprise and delight. Today, my president is Barack Obama. And soon, I hope,  a generation of Jewish children will wear jerseys of the as-yet-undiscovered True Jewish Jordan.

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