How an NBA Player Plays Ball in the Holy Land

March 1, 2013 1:24 am 0 comments

Craig Smith. Photo: Deena Rosenblatt/Tazpit News Agency.

When most people think about sports in Israel, the first sport that comes to mind is soccer. But over the years basketball has become increasingly popular in the Holy Land. One of the major teams that play in the Israeli Basketball Super League, the top division of Israeli basketball, is Hapoel ‘Migdal’ Jerusalem. Based out of the Malha arena, Hapoel Jerusalem was originally founded in 1943 and has attracted players from all over the world.

Currently the team is home to nine Israeli players as well as five from abroad; one Georgian player, and four Americans.  Although the majority of players on Hapoel Jerusalem are Israeli, the team attracts American NBA players and its most recent is American power forward/center, Craig Smith.
Originally from Inglewood, California, Smith graduated from Fairfax High School and went on to play Division I basketball at Boston College.  Smith graduated as the team’s leader in rebounds and was the second highest scorer, in addition to attaining a degree in Sociology. After college, he went on to be drafted into the NBA where he played for six seasons on the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Portland Trailblazers; for his seventh season he decided to come overseas to continue his basketball career in Israel.
Although it was difficult for Smith to leave his family and fiancé, they have been very supportive of his decision and understand how important the opportunity is for him.  “It’s a once in a lifetime experience living in Israel for a year, [especially] with so much history [and] biblical aspects,” Smith told Tazpit News Agency. He finds a lot of meaning in playing “where [his] homie Jesus is from.”

Smith views coming to Israel not only as an opportunity to play basketball, but also as a “learning opportunity on and off the court.” He had lived in the States his whole life and explained that he was “always curious to know what it would be like to live abroad [and also] learn another culture and adapt to it….Jerusalem felt right in this situation.”

Another factor in cementing Smith’s decision to play in Israel was the encouragement he received from former American Hapoel Jerusalem player Roger Mason to do so. In addition, Smith also cited the weather, which is similar to his native California.

Since Smith stepped off the plane, the Hapoel team has opened their arms and welcomed him warmly to the Hapoel family. Smith described how the Israelis and Americans on the team are very close and “often joke around with each other.”

The former LA Clippers basketball player has also been invited to several Shabbat meals by his teammates, which have all been eye-opening experiences. When Smith encounters religious people in Israel, he says he enjoys learning about their traditions. “They will explain to you what the process is before you can eat….all the different types of Jewish culture here are pretty cool,” he stated.

When asked about the differences of NBA style of basketball to Israeli basketball, Smith points to some variances in rules. “In the NBA a player cannot stay in the key for more than three seconds or it is a violation, while in Israeli basketball there is no such rule.” In addition the game in Israel according to Smith is somewhat more physical “which is a little tough.”  He also mentioned that in Israel “it’s a little bit more of a team game” in contrast to the NBA where there is more of an individualized effort. In the Israeli league, Smith feels he is more of a focal player and a target, which he explains is “a great honor.”

As for the “Malcha Brigade,” which is Hapoel Jerusalem’s dedicated fan base, Smith describes them as being “rowdy in a good way” and that “not until you experience it do you really know and get a feel for it.”

Based on Smith’s overall experience, he recommends the overseas experience to any basketball player. It “will definitely enlighten you; make you a better person at the end of the day and more knowledgeable about the world.”

As for Craig’s future with Hapoel Jerusalem, he is in no rush to get back to the NBA. He elaborates, “I am having a great time out here, but it really comes down to what happens in the summer time.”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Blogs 10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    Ten major film studios are currently in production on projects that promote a decidedly pro-Israeli narrative. In famously liberal Hollywood, such a development has left mouths agape and set tongues a wagging. Since the Jewish State began defending itself from the thousands of rockets that Hamas has hurled at it – as well as ongoing terror attacks and murders, the overwhelming number of Tinseltown’s producers, directors, actors, and studio moguls have remained indifferent to the plight of millions of Israeli [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Sports So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    Israeli Judoka Yarden Gerbi (63kg), 25, of Netanya, on Thursday lost the final round at the Judo World Cup, and her world title to Clarisse Agbegnenou of France, at a match held in Russia. “I have mixed feelings,” Gerbi told Israeli Army radio. But, “I shouldn’t assume that I’d win the world Judo championship twice in a row,” she admitted. Gerbi won gold in Rio De Janeiro last year. “When I made my decision, I knew it was going to [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    “Jews Out!” was just the name of a child’s game that three little girls played in World War II Europe. But all is not as it seems because the three girls were Jewish, but hiding their true identities. In award-winning author R. D. Rosen’s riveting non-fiction work, Such Good Girls, “Jews Out!” wasn’t a game; it was a struggle for survival. The girls, Sophie, Flora, and Carla, grew up at a time and a place that did not allow them [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    JNS.org – “He was part hippie, part yippie, part beatnik, and part New Age,” wrote Elli Wohlgelernter in a Jerusalem Post eulogy in 1994, following the Oct. 20 passing of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Twenty years later, more robust accounts of Carlebach’s life have come to the surface. Earlier this year, Natan Ophir published the book Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission & Legacy. This past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Katz’s The Soul of Jerusalem hit the shelves. But even the authors will admit [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    As Hamas loses its grip on power in the Gaza Strip as a result of war, poverty and disillusionment, the Islamist terrorist group has developed an ingenious way to raise the morale of the 1.7 million Palestinian Arabs it was elected to serve. While currently focused on delivering a rocket into every Israeli home, Hamas has not left its own people behind. To gently wipe away the tears of children strategically placed inside kindergartens as human shields, the Hamas Interior Ministry [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    In a strong statement that challenges the historic divide between Christianity and Judaism, Pope Francis recently proclaimed, “Inside every Christian is a Jew.” But if you look at Renaissance artworks that depict Jesus, you will not find any evidence of a Jew inside the Christianized Jesus — even though the Gospels in the New Testament tell us that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Getting that point across to the public is a daunting task, as I learned in interviews I [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Recycling His Roots

    Recycling His Roots

    JNS.org – Having started his career playing on his family’s pots and pans, Jewish musician Billy Jonas has maintained this homemade performance ethic while spreading his messages of simple living and environmentalism to a shared home throughout the world. After beginning in the kitchen, Jonas soon moved to the music room, where he picked up the piano, guitar, and trombone. These days, the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist plays on with pretty much anything he can find, including cans, bottles buckets, and other recycled-object [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    JNS.org – Sara Davidson’s The December Project is a new book that should be read by all senior citizens, and by those who hope to live a long life, for it raises a question that most of us have not been taught how to answer: What should we do in that final stage of our lives? Many of us continue working past the traditional retirement age of 65, not because we need the money and not because we find the [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.