Two of the starters on the WNBA Champion Seattle Storm - Sue Bird and Alysha Clark - both have Jewish ties as well as Israeli citizenship. As a tour guide of Israel - and an avid basketball fan - I am bursting with pride right now :).
Clark was raised Christian and still practices Christianity, at least one, if not both, of her maternal grandparents are Jewish. This led her to going to Israel and playing basketball here for three different teams over the course of six years from 2010-2016 where she won the Israeli Player of the Year award. She even played on the Israeli national team, with great success. She has returned to Israel on Israeli star Omri Casspi's Foundation trip along with other NBA and WNBA stars. While there she
attended a camp run by former NBA All-Star and recent convert to Judaism, Amare Stoudemire, and had this to say about her experience in Israel: “He had kids of four different ethnicities and religions coming together to play basketball, and nothing else mattered. Just to see their parents in the stands as well, interacting with each other, that touched me the most,” Clark said. “With all this stuff that’s going on in the world, all everybody wants is peace. They just want peace in their country.”
Bird, one of the greatest 20 women's basketball players of all-time, just became the third player, male or female, to win championships in three different decades. In fact, she is one of the winningest players of all time. According to Wikipedia, "Bird has won a joint-record four WNBA championships with the Storm (2004, 2010, 2018, 2020), four Olympic gold medals (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016), two NCAA Championships with UConn (2000, 2002), and four FIBA World Cups (2002, 2010, 2014, 2018). She is one of only 11 women to attain all four accolades. She is also a five-time EuroLeague Champion (2007-2010, 2013)." Bird has a Jewish father and lived in Israel for a short time and acquired Israeli citizenship. Here is what she has to say about her experience in Israel:
"It’s very much basketball motivated. There are different rules, where each team in Europe can only have two Americans. As an American, if you have any kind of ancestors or connection to another country, it can be advantageous for your career if you can get a passport. For myself, with my father being Jewish and still having relatives in Israel, it was an easy connection. When I tell this to people outside of basketball circles, it seems a little odd. But in our world, it’s like very normal. So that’s how it all came about. It was cool, because what I found was in this effort to create an opportunity in my basketball career, I was able to learn a lot about a culture that I probably wouldn’t have tapped into otherwise. Part of it was being just immersed and basically living there for a little bit, and it was one of the best experiences. People have this kind of different image of what Israel is, and what it’s about. And yes, there are military people all over, but there’s so much more. Going to Jerusalem was an amazing experience. I’ve been two or three times. I went to the Dead Sea. I never got to go to Eilat, which I’m bummed about, because I’ve heard it’s beautiful down there. I spent most of my time in Tel Aviv. Gorgeous. There’s so much culture and I’ve made some friends that are lifelong friends. I got to get in touch with my whole dad’s side of the family, the family tree, I learned all about it. It was just an awesome experience."
I actually have Bird on my all-time Jewish starting 5 team (I'm including patrilineal descent here since I really don't know everyone's background) teaming with Oded Katash in the backcourt and Omri Casspi, Dolph Schayes and Ama're Stoudemire in the frontcourt. My second team, would be Nancy Lieberman, Max Zaslofsky, Tal Brody, Rudy LaRusso and Neal Walk. My third team (a small-ball lineup - I'm running out of tall Jews) would be Jordan Farmar, Tamir "Jewish Jordan" Goodman, Gal Mekel, Ossie Schectman (first-ever NBA basket) and Tiago Splitter. Between Red Auerbach, Red Holzman, Nat Holman and Larry Brown, though we would have an incredible coaching staff :).
Mazal Tov to both ladies and to the Seattle Storm - 2020 WNBA Champions! And don't forget to talk to me, your Israel tour guide, about perhaps including a visit to an Israeli league baskeball game on your next trip to Israel; it's quite an experience and an atmosphere that you will never forget!
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