In retrospect, maybe we went a little too far with the whole "Jewish Jordan" thing. Three years ago (SI, Feb. 1, 1999) this magazine put that label on Tamir Goodman, described his game as "enthralling" and reported breathlessly how he played "a foot over the rim when rebounding or dunking." The Orthodox Jew who starred for Talmudical Academy in suburban Baltimore was, we wrote, "built for basketball."
Only, as it turned out, Goodman wasn't built for college basketball. In September 1999 he reneged on an oral commitment to Maryland when he felt the school was lukewarm about his playing ability. He ended up at Towson, where any doubts the Terps might have had about him were borne out As a freshman Goodman scored 6.0 points a game, and last year he played in just seven games, averaging 1.9 points and 2.3 turnovers. His playing days at Towson ended after he accused his coach, Michael Hunt, of brandishing a chair at him in the locker room. (The school's internal investigation found no cause to punish Hunt.) Towson honored Goodman's scholarship, and he left after finishing spring classes.
Goodman's basketball odyssey continued three months ago when he signed a three-year contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv to play near where his mother grew up and his grandmother lives. "This is what I've been pointing to, ultimately, my entire life," he said.
Only, as it turns out, Goodman isn't quite ready for Israel's top team. Last month the club loaned the 20-year-old to Givat Shmuel, a mid-level team in a Tel Aviv suburb. He is considered a valuable investment for Maccabi because he holds citizenship in Israel as well as the U.S. (There are limits on the number of foreign players allowed on a team.) "After a difficult season in college he needs to be on the court playing," says Maccabi coach David Blatt. "He's not ready right now to contribute."
"I was expecting to be loaned out," says Goodman, who is lifting weights four times a week to bulk up his 6'3", 175-pound body. "It's different from college basketball; the maturity level is higher." When play for Givat begins next month, Goodman will likely be more curiosity than contributor, as he's expected to come off the bench. He'll also be the first pro player in Israel in a decade to wear a yarmulke on the court and should draw plenty of fans from Givat Shmuel's large Orthodox community. Goodman says he is happy and considers his move as much about his culture as about basketball. "The time to come was now because of everything that's going on here," he says. "I wanted to put in my two cents to help Israel."