Pro Hoops Player Talks About Journey to Orthodox Judaism, Feeling ‘Unstoppable’ Wearing Tzitzit
Professional basketball player Chris Smith opened up about the role Judaism plays in his life in a new YouTube video uploaded on Wednesday.
In the clip, posted by the website Jew in the City, the former NBA player said he started playing basketball at a very young age as part of a league in Lakewood, NJ, alongside his older brother J.R., who now plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Lakewood has a large Orthodox Jewish population and growing up Chris did not know much about Jews, but was interested in learning about their culture. He said, “I always wondered who are these people with these black hats. I didn’t know who these people were, what they did and why they wore these outfits when it was like 100 degrees.”
When Chris, whose Hebrew name is Ariel, played for the New York Knicks, one of his teammates were Amare Stoudemire, who lives a Jewish lifestyle and is the son of “Hebraic” parents. Stoudemire would bring Jewish books to the locker room and they piqued Chris’ interest. Chris also saw Stoudemire wear tzitzit and said he “admired” his teammate for sporting it under his clothes.
“When I put it on and I wear it, I just feel unstoppable,” Chris said about wearing tzitzit himself.
The YouTube clip also introduces Jewish sports agent Daniel Hazan, a friend of Chris’ who continuously invited the basketball player to Shabbat dinners and accompanied him on a trip to Israel, all of which got Chris closer to Judaism. Chris said, “I’m hanging out with Dan, I’m going to all these dinners, I’m meeting all these people, I’m actually learning what’s really going on, and then it just hit me: Ok, this is what I want to do. [And] my family is 100 percent supportive of me.”
He added, “I wanted to become Jewish for certain reasons that [are] bigger than basketball, bigger than family, bigger than everything…when I was coming out of college, going to the NBA was my all-time goal in life, and Judaism kind of brought me back on that high. Like Dan always says, go back to your foundation and refocus. And Judaism has played a big role in that.”
In 2017, Chris converted to Judaism and became an Israeli citizen.
Watch Chris Smith talk about Judaism in the video below: