The NBA's Jewish Connection: Former Basketball Stars Coaching at Maccabiah

While Amar’e Stoudemire has grabbed most of the limelight, there are several other NBA notables among the coaching staffs at the Maccabiah.

There probably isn't a future NBA player like Lennie Rosenbluth, Danny Schayes or Ernie Grunfeld - all former Maccabiah participants before their pro careers - in the current games, but there is definitely a wealth of NBA talent coaching on the sidelines.

Most of the attention has centered around New York Knicks star Amar'e Stoudemire, who is in Israel as the assistant coach of the Canadian men's squad. Also prominent are Norm Nixon, a former star of the Los Angeles Lakers’ “Showtime” championship team, who is here coaching the Australian men's masters team, Dolph Schayes, a member of the basketball Hall of Fame, who is in charge of the American men’s masters team and Brad Greenberg, once a high-ranking official at several NBA teams, who is coaching the U.S. men's team. Greenberg led Maccabi Haifa to the Israeli league title this year.

Stoudemire's participation in the Jewish Olympics is part of his widening connection to Judaism, which began when he visited here three summers ago. Since then he has been invited by Israeli President Shimon Peres to join the national team and has purchased part ownership in Hapoel Jerusalem.

Dolph Schayes and his son Danny are a father-and-son team of former NBA players. Dolph was probably the greatest Jewish player in NBA history, while Danny is an 18-year veteran of the NBA wars. Three generations of the Schayes family have participated in the Maccabiah over the years. “For us the games are a family affair,” said Danny Schayes, whose first Maccabiah appearance was as a high school senior in 1977, when he participated in the U.S. gold medal-winning men's team, coached by his father. Over the years, three of Dolph's grandchildren have been Maccabiah medal winners and a fourth is trying for a medal this year.

In 1993, at the close of his NBA career, Danny Schayes became a Maccabiah sponser. Later, after marrying and having a son, he decided to resume active participation, with the goal of passing on the Maccabiah experience to his family. "I hope that my 11-year-old son will be ready for the junior men's basketball team in the 2017 games, making him a fourth generation of Schayes in the Maccabiah," Danny said.

Brad Greenberg, formerly General Manager of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers and Director of Player Personnel at the Portland Trailblazers, is a first-time participant in World Maccabiah, after coaching in the Pan American version of the games two summers ago. Greenberg’s coaching career has undergone a renaissance in Israel, following his dismissal from a Virginia university after a recruiting scandal. Originally scheduled to be assistant coach under his younger brother Seth in this year's games, Greenberg became head of the U.S. men’s squad when Seth withdrew for personal reasons.

"This has been a tremendous experience for me," said Greenberg, "in particular as part of the spectacular opening ceremony."

A first-time visitor to Israel, Norm Nixon was an NBA star in the 1980s as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers team that included Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was appointed coach of the Australian men’s masters team, despite having no particular connection with Australia, through his friendship with Peter Lowy, a long-time Maccabiah participant for his native Australia and today a successful businessman in Los Angeles. Lowy last appeared in the games in 1997 as a member of the Australian men's masters soccer squad, but this year is playing basketball under Nixon.

The connection between the NBA and Jews runs long and deep. Founded in 1946 as the Basketball Association of America (BAA) - it changed its name to the NBA in 1949 - the league’s early rosters were dotted with numerous, now long-forgotten, Jewish players, like Ossie Schectman, the first player to ever score a point in a league game, and his New York Knicks teammates Hank Rosenstein, Sonny Hertzberg and Ralph Kaplowitz. The new league’s first commissioner, Maurice Podoloff, was also a member of the tribe.

Today, many of the league’s teams are Jewish-owned and the current (long-time) commissioner, David Stern, is Jewish. In addition, some of the greatest coaches in NBA history have been Jewish, including the Boston Celtics’ Red Auerbach, the Knicks’ Red Holzman and former player and current college coach Larry Brown.

AP