Tag Archives: NBA

Jew of the Week: Deni Avdija

The NBA’s Next Big Star?

Deni Avdija
(Credit: Maccabi.co.il)

Deni Avdija (b. 2001) was born in Kibbutz Beit Zera in Israel to a Serbian-Muslim father and an Israeli-Jewish mother. His father was a professional basketball player who had moved to Israel to play for Ramat HaSharon, and then several other clubs. The elder Avdija fell in love with the country and people, and settled in Israel permanently. Deni grew up playing basketball, too, and joined the youth club of Maccabi Tel Aviv when he was 12. At just 16, he signed with Maccabi’s senior team, making him the youngest player ever in the Israeli Basketball Premier League. He went on to win three championships with the team. In the last season, he was the league MVP—setting another record as the youngest player ever to win that prize. He was also the MVP at the European Basketball Without Borders tournament in 2018, and the MVP at the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Global Camp last year. Avdija earned yet another MVP at the Under-20 FIBA European Championships last year, when he led Israel’s team to the gold. (Though he is eligible to play for Serbia, he has chosen to represent his birth country Israel on the international stage.) After spending a few months with the IDF this past year while basketball was on hold due to COVID, he was drafted by the NBA’s Washington Wizards and signed a rookie contract. He made his NBA debut in a preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets, making a huge splash with 15 points and 2 assists, and going 100% in field goals and threes. The announcer at the game called him the “Mensch off the Bench”, to go along with his other title, “the Israeli sensation”. Some predict he may become the NBA’s next big star. Avdija recently did a public menorah-lighting during Chanukah. He hopes to highlight his proud heritage in the NBA, and to show all “the great things about Israel”.

Words of the Week

When sheep have no leader, they huddle together and imitate each other out of fear. And I’m not talking about sheep.
– Rabbi Aharon Feldman

Jews of the Week: Irene and Abe Pollin

The Couple that Brought Sports to Washington, D.C.and Saved Lives

Irene Sue Kerchek (1924-2020) was born in St. Louis, Missouri. She met her future husband Abraham “Abe” Pollin (1923-2009) when she was just 17. The couple married and settled in Washington, D.C. Abe worked for his father’s construction company before he and Irene started their own business in 1957. Together, they built a prosperous real estate empire, raising up both affordable and subsidized housing projects as well as luxury properties. The Pollins went on to found and own the NBA’s Washington Wizards team, the NHL’s Washington Capitals, and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, working hard to bring those three clubs to the city. They also built the Capital Center and what is now Capital One Arena (formerly the Verizon Center), and were credited with reviving Washington’s downtown core. In 1963, the Pollins lost their teenage daughter to heart disease, and Irene lost both of her parents to heart disease that same year. She fell into deep depression and, when nothing seemed to help her, decided to go study psychology and social work herself. She went back to university and earned two degrees. Pollin opened two pioneering therapy clinics, and wrote two acclaimed books on mental illness and counseling. Her greatest mission in life, however, was to combat heart disease. In 2008, she donated $12 million to Brigham and Women’s Hospital (of Harvard) to establish a heart wellness program. In 2012, she donated $10 million to Hadassah Medical Center in Israel to create a heart health institute, and another $10 million to do the same at Johns Hopkins University. The following year, she gave another $10 million to establish one more heart health centre in Los Angeles. After discovering that more women died from heart disease than from breast cancer, Pollin started a number of organizations to increase awareness of female heart disease and to get more women screened on time. The most famous of these organizations is Sister to Sister: The Women’s Heart Health Foundation. Through their efforts, and the screening clinics they set up across America, the lives of countless women have been saved. The Pollins were generous philanthropists and gave millions more to many other causes, including Washington’s Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, the National Symphony, and research into brain disease, which ultimately took the life of Abe Pollin. The Pollins had a summer house in Rehovot, Israel, and were close friends of Yitzhak Rabin. It was Rabin’s assassination in 1995 that was the major reason why they renamed their Washington Bullets basketball team to the Washington Wizards (the new name was selected in a public contest). Irene Pollin also sat on the National Cancer Advisory Board, to which she was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1986, while Abe Pollin was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame as the longest-serving owner of an NBA franchise (46 years). Sadly, Irene Pollin passed away last month at the age of 96.

Words of the Week

If you were born with a healthy heart, keep it that way.
– Irene Pollin

Jew of the Week: Larry Tanenbaum

Owner of the Toronto Raptors and Maple Leafs

Lawrence M. Tanenbaum (b. 1945) was born in Toronto, the grandson of religious Polish-Jewish immigrants. His father was a real estate tycoon and the founder and owner of York Steel Construction. Tanenbaum studied economics at Cornell University, where he managed the school’s hockey team. Upon graduating, he became the general manager of Kilmer Van Nostrand, a construction company that his father had recently bought out. Tanenbaum expanded the company rapidly. Among their many projects across the Americas are the Toronto, Atlanta, Miami, and Calgary train and subway networks. After a merger with another company in 1984, Tanenbaum became the CEO of Canada’s largest road paving company. Meanwhile, he created two new subdivisions for Kilmer: its Developments wing which is a leading Canadian real estate firm, and Kilmer Sports, for which Tanenbaum is most famous. Kilmer Sports has a 25% share of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Ltd., and Tanenbaum is the chairman of both the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team and the Toronto Raptors basketball team. The former is among the most valuable sports clubs in the world, while the latter won the NBA Championship last week for the first time in its history. In fact, Tanenbaum played an instrumental role in bringing a professional basketball team to Toronto. Although he lobbied the NBA for years, the contract was ultimately awarded to another businessman. Undeterred, Tanenbaum vowed to buy it out, and did so in 1998 with the team having struggled tremendously in its first years. Tanenbaum quickly turned its fortunes around (together with Vince Carter, who was drafted that same year.) Tanenbaum is a big sports fan himself, and goes to as many Leafs and Raptors games as he can. MLSE also owns the Toronto Argonauts, Toronto FC, and two more teams, making it Canada’s largest sports company, and one of the largest in the world. Last year, Tanenbaum (with a partner) bought the rights to bottle and distribute Coca-Cola in Canada. Tanenbaum and his family are huge philanthropists, donating countless millions to schools, hospitals, and charities. Among his largest donations are $60 million to Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, $20 million to Montreal’s Neurological Institute and Hospital, $5 million to the University of Toronto, and $50 million to the UJA. He is a co-founder of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Tanenbaum was awarded the Order of Canada in 2007. He plans to take the Toronto Raptors on an all-expenses paid trip to Israel as a victory present.

Words of the Week

Five thousand years of continuous history of the Jewish people have built an ethic. And the ethic has been built around family, the importance of learning and good behaviour. You build on those tenets. You never stop learning, whether that’s reading the Bible, the Talmud, the New Yorker or Engineering News Record. And ethical behaviour is about conducting your relationships on an ethical basis. You’re honest with people.

– Larry Tanenbaum