First Basket: Jews and Basketball


Sure the dude that invented basketball was Canadian, but there was a time when Jews dominated basketball the way they now dominate media and finance. And world governments. OK, I’m kidding about world Jew domination, but I’m not kidding about basketball. In fact, the first basket scored in the NBA was on November 1, 1946 by Ossie Schectman of the New York Knickerbockers against the Toronto Huskies. Schectman and his teammates Sonny Hertzberg, Stan Stutz, Hank Rosenstein, Ralph Kaplowitz, Jake Weber, and Leo “Ace” Gottlieb went on to win the opening game 68 – 66.

Now Jews traditionally have never been very athletic. But back in the early days of basketball, they verily dominated. Along with stickball, basketball was the game of choice for the little Jewish ragamuffins living in the tenements of the Lower East Side of New York and elsewhere in the US. The poor little yidden, first generation immigrant kids, freed from their shtetl yoke of religion, needed something to do with their spare time and for many, sports was their new religion.

New York Daily News sports editor Paul Gallico wrote in the mid 1930s that basketball “appeals to the Hebrew with his Oriental background [because] the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind and flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smartalecness.” We see how qualities such as cunning and wiliness were posited as the keys to Jewish basketball success and how these kinds of statements were indicative of early 20th century America.

So now comes this great new documentary called “The First Basket” which in discussing the origins of the game of basketball and the Jews in it, is in a sense, recreating the Jewish immigrant experience in America and is no less an exposé of modern Jewish identity than it is the story of some sweaty ball playing Jews.

You can read more about this documentary and watch some clips at their Web site www.thefirstbasket.com or you can watch the film at a theater near you. “The First Basket” will be playing at the following venues and times:

New York
Opens October 29, 2008 for 10 Days!

(Special Events will be announced over the next two weeks)
The Village East Cinema
181 -189 2nd Ave. New York, NY 10003
212-529-6799

Los Angeles
Opens November 14th!

Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills
310-274-6869
Laemmle’s Town Center in Encino
818-981-9811 www.laemmle.com

Tuesday, November 11, 7:30 pm
The Skirball Cultural Center
Los Angeles, CA

Monday October 20th – 7:00pm
The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and JCCSF
San Francisco, CA

Click here to see clips from the film and visit the Web site for updates and special events.

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Founder of Jewlicious? Publisher? Man I hate titles. I coined the name Jewlicious and I slave over the site. I live in Jerusalem and I need to get some breakfast.
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5 Comments

  1. stanley schweiger

    11/24/2008 at 4:58 pm

    can’t wait to see this documentary. i live in the Springfield, MA area, home of the basketball hall of fame. have they been approached regarding a “new england premiere?” there are loads of Jewish seniors in the Springfield/Hartford,CT market, and this film seems like a natural for this area. mazel tov!

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