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...

  • Blogs Book Reviews The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    Romirowsky and Joffe’s book Religion, Politics and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief is an important volume for those interested in truly understanding the origins of the Palestinian refugee issue. Utilizing a treasure trove of newly released documents, the authors link UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine) origins to the Quakers/American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). For those readers who thought they knew most of the Middle East story, Romirowsky and Joffe’s version provides another twist. The authors meticulously [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.