Tag Archives: NBA

Jew of the Week: Mickey Berkowitz

Israel’s Greatest Athlete

Moshe Berkowitz (b. 1954) was born in Kfar Saba, Israel. At the young age of 11, he joined the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball youth club. Within a few years, he made the junior team, and at just 17 years old, was already playing on the senior team in the Israeli Basketball Premier League. The same year, he took the Israeli under-18 team to the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) European Championship finals, and was the overall leading scorer of the whole tournament. Shortly after, he led the national team to a gold medal in the 1974 Asian Games in Tehran. This came at a time when Israel was still reeling from the devastating Yom Kippur War, and Berkowitz became a symbol of Israeli strength, success, and vitality. He has since been credited with playing a key role in re-inspiring Israeli youth in the wake of the war.

In 1975, Berkowitz took a short break to play a year of college basketball in the US (with the top-seeded UNLV Runnin’ Rebels). Returning to Maccabi, he transformed the team into a top contender, and in 1977 led Maccabi to its first FIBA European Cup. The team won the championship again in 1981, with Berkowitz scoring the winning shot. He also played on five European All-Star teams, and made history when his Maccabis beat the NBA champion Washington Bullets in 1978, becoming the first FIBA team to ever beat an NBA team. Back home, too, Maccabi was an unstoppable force, with Berkowitz leading the club to 16 national league championship titles and another 13 Israeli State Cups. After a silver medal at the 1979 EuroBasket (and being voted the tournament’s MVP), Berkowitz got flooded with offers from the NBA. However, he was unable to break his Maccabi contract and was forced to stay in the Israeli league. In 1991, Berkowitz was voted among FIBA’s 50 Greatest Players of all time, and more recently made the list of 50 Greatest EuroLeague Contributors. He officially retired in 1995 and wrote a bestselling autobiography. Last year, Berkowitz was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame alongside Shaquille O’Neal and several other greats. In the run-up to Israel’s 70th birthday, he was voted the nation’s greatest athlete. Despite being ranked the 35th most famous Israeli, and once being hailed as “king of Israel”, Berkowitz always carried himself with utmost humility and was a natural role model. Two of his sons continue to play pro-basketball in Israel today.

Words of the Week

The thought, the inspiration, and the culture of the Jews has been one of the vital dominants in world history. There are none of the arts or sciences which have not been enriched by Jewish achievements.
– Winston Churchill

Jew of the Week: Aulcie Perry

Aulcie Perry with Israeli kids at his summer camp

Aulcie Perry (b. 1950) was born in New Jersey and went to university in Florida on a basketball scholarship. Between 1974 and 1976, Perry played for a number of professional basketball teams, and was signed by the New York Knicks at one point. After being discovered by an Israeli scout, Perry signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv and moved to the Holy Land. In his first year, he led Maccabi to its first Euro Cup championship. He would go on to play nine seasons with Maccabi, helping them win six Israeli Cups and two Euro Cups. Meanwhile, Perry fell in love with Israel and the Jewish people, and decided to formally convert. He took on the new name Elisha ben Avraham. Unfortunately, Perry got into some drug troubles and would be arrested in New York. He spent several years in prison before returning to Israel. Perry worked hard to clean up his image and become a positive role model. To this day, he sponsors a basketball camp for Israeli kids, and coaches a Maccabi Tel Aviv youth team. The rest of the time he manages a Burger Ranch (Israel’s McDonald’s). Perry is credited with sparking a basketball craze in Israel, and making the sport popular there. He also paved the way for many future basketball stars to sign with Israeli teams, including Anthony Parker and Amar’e Stoudemire in recent years. The term “Aulcie Perry” is still an Israeli slang for a very tall person.

Simchat Torah/Shemini Atzeret Begins Tonight! Chag Sameach!

Words of the Week

When G-d desired to create man, Truth said: “He should not be created, for he will be full of lies.” Kindness said: “He should be created, for he will be full of kindness.”
– Midrash Rabbah, Beresheet 8:5

Jew of the Week: Abe Saperstein

Abraham Michael Saperstein (1902-1966) was born in London and grew up in Chicago, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants. From a young age, Saperstein was fascinated with sport, and played on his high school’s baseball, basketball, football, and boxing teams. Forced to drop out of university to support his struggling family, Saperstein never lost his dream of an athletic career, despite being just 5’3″ tall, and being a Jew in a time of rampant anti-Semitism. While working as a playground supervisor, Saperstein was given an opportunity to play for a semi-pro basketball team. He did well, and soon became the team’s coach, manager, and booking agent. In 1926, Saperstein founded his own basketball team, the Harlem Globetrotters.”Harlem” was not for its geographical location – it was based in Chicago – but because it was an all-black team. At the time, most sports leagues were for whites only, with separate leagues for black people. Basketball in particular was considered a “white sport”, with black players banned from the NBA. Saperstein and his original five players made just $8 (split evenly between them) in their first game. Throughout the difficult years of the Great Depression, Saperstein was the team’s coach, manager, driver, publicist, and even substitute player! The team was once described as “Four clean-limbed young colored men and a squat bandy-legged chap of Jewish extraction”. To make ends meet, the team had to play just about every night. Since most hotels did not allow black guests, Saperstein often snuck his players into his own room. The team quickly built a reputation for “ball-handling wizardry” and showmanship. In 1948, the Globetrotters played against the all-white NBA champions, the Minneapolis Lakers. To everyone’s shock, the Globetrotters won. A year later, they won a rematch. This proved once and for all that black players were just as good (if not better) than white players. The following year, the first black player (a former Globetrotter) was signed to an NBA team, finally breaking basketball’s colour barrier. That same year, the Globetrotters played in Madison Square Garden, the first time a basketball game sold out at MSG. Saperstein then established two more basketball teams in the US, as well as an international one. He also founded and owned several baseball teams. His ultimate wish was to own an NBA team, but he was thwarted time and again. Instead, he started his own competing league, the American Basketball League (ABL). To make it more exciting, Saperstein added a new line to the court and invented the three-point shot. The ABL did not last long, but the NBA soon adopted the three-point shot into its own league, forever changing the game. Saperstein was both a visionary and a tireless labourer. He took just one day off a year – Yom Kippur – and died of a heart attack while at work. Saperstein has been credited with revolutionizing basketball, making sports more entertaining, and most importantly, playing a key role in ending athletic racial segregation. One former player said the Globetrotters had “done more for the perception of black people, and the perception of America, than almost anything you could think of.” The Globetrotters still put on 450 shows a year, and have played over 26,000 exhibition games, in over 120 countries, making them one of the most popular and well-known basketball teams of all time.

Words of the Week

He that waits upon Fortune, is never sure of a dinner.
– Benjamin Franklin

The 1950 Harlem Globetrotters team, with Saperstein at right