Top 10 Jewish NBA players of all time
We celebrate the 10 greatest Jewish players in NBA history in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month.
Little-known fact: The first basket in NBA history was scored by Ossie Schectman. It happened in Toronto during a game between the Huskies and New York Knicks, and it actually happened in the BAA – which later was renamed the NBA.
Not a ton of Jewish players have come through the NBA since then, but there have been some notables, and there will be a super-notable when Domantas Sabonis of Sacramento finishes converting to Judaism.
And there might one day be another if Ryan Turell, a 2022 Yeshiva University grad, can improve upon his 3.0 points per game average this past season for the Motor City Cruise of the G-League.
The NBA playoffs gave us two treats on Wednesday night, as the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors stayed alive. Today, we have another treat in honor of Jewish Heritage Month: The Top 10 NBA Jewish players of all time.
What is Jewish Heritage Month?
May was designated Jewish Heritage Month by President George Bush in 2006 to recognize and celebrate the achievements and contributions of those of the Jewish faith. The president wanted to proclaim a month that would recognize the more than 350-year history of Jewish contributions to America and American culture. On Feb. 14, 2006, Congress issued House Concurrent Resolution 315 which stated:
"Resolved ... that Congress urges the President to issue each year a proclamation calling on State and local governments and the people of the United States to observe an American Jewish History Month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities."
Are there any Current Jewish NBA Players?
Yes. Deni Avdija of the Washington Wizards was drafted ninth overall in 2020. He started 40 of 76 games last season while averaging 9.2 points and 6.4 rebounds. Domantas Sabonis just finished a dominant first full season with the Sacramento Kings and is in the process of converting to the same religion as his wife, Shashana, according to SportKeeda.
Famous Jewish NBA Players
The early years of the BAA and NBA had more Jewish players on various rosters than what we see today, but these things tend to be cyclical, and Israel has a major professional basketball league. The Israeli Basketball Premier League features perennial Euroleague contender Maccabi Tel Aviv, which has a legit NBA prospect by way of Belarus in 6-foot-10 power forward Roman Sorkin.
Ranking the 10 Best Jewish NBA players of all time
- Sid Tanenbaum
Years Active: 2 (1947 to 1949)
Teams: New York Knicks, Baltimore Bullets
A player who averaged a career 9.6 points and 3.9 assists per game for the New York Knicks and Baltimore Bullets of the BAA, Tanenbaum was a native of the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., which has produced numerous NBA players.
- Art Heyman
Years Active: 6 (1963 to 1966 and 1967 to 1970)
Teams: New York Knicks, Cincinnati Royals, Philadelphia 76ers, Pittsburgh/Minnesota Pipers (ABA), New Jersey Americans (ABA), Miami Floridians.
Awards: NBA All-Rookie Team (1963-64)
Best known for his college baskethall accomplishments at Duke, Heyman, who grew up in Rockville Center, N.Y., was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1963 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks and made the All-Rookie Team while averaging 15.4 points per game. However, his pro career tailed off from there, and he later played in the ABA.
- Omri Casspi
Years Active: 12 (2009 to 2019)
Teams: Sacramento Kings, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans
The 23rd pick in the 2009 NBA draft, Casspi, from Holon, Israel, spent 12 seasons in the NBA with seven teams, accumulating 4,640 career points after playing four seasons for Maccabi Tel Aviv.
- Max Zaslofsky
Years Active: 10 (1946-1956)
Teams: Chicago Stags, New York Knicks, Milwaukee Hawks, Baltimore Bullets, Fort Wayne Pistons
Awards: All-NBA (1947, 1948, 1949, 1950), NBA All-Star Game (1953)
The son of Russian immigrants, Zaslofsky, who grew up in Brookyn, was the league’s leading scorer in 1947-48 at 21.0 points per game for the Chicago Stags. When that team folded, he was acquired by the New York Knicks, where he spent three seasons before joining the Milwaukee Hawks, Baltimore Bullets and Fort Wayne Pistons.
- Ernie Grunfeld
Years Active: 9 (1977 to 1986)
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks, Kansas City Kings, New York Knicks
Few people who followed him as a player and executive, especially in New York, remember that he was a native of Romania, from the small town of Satu Mare. An Olympic gold medalist in 1976 before his NBA playing career began, Grunfeld spent 10 years as the general manager of the New York Knicks before holding similar jobs with the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards.
- Nat Holman
Years Active: 14 (1916 to 1930 – pre-NBA era)
Team: Original Celtics
Awards: Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1964)
A native of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the son of Russian immigrants, Holman lived to be 98 years old before dying in 1998. He was a star for NYU and played for the Original Celtics (no relation to the Boston Celtics) before achieving his greatest accomplishments as the coach of CCNY for 14 seasons.
- Jordan Farmar
Years Active: 10 (2006 to 2017)
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers, New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings.
One of Kobe Bryant’s running mates with the great Lakers teams of the 2000s, Farmar, a Los Angeles native, had a stellar high-school career in his home state and was a star at UCLA, too, before becoming the 26th overall pick of the 2009 NBA draft. He went on to play overseas for teams in Israel and Turkey before finishing his career in the NBA. He was a two-time NBA champion.
- Danny Schayes
Years Active: 19 (1981 to 1999)
Teams: Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic.
An all-around great guy whose son has been playing in the Maccabi Games in Israel, Schayes, from Syracuse, N.Y., followed in his father Dolph’s footsteps and had a long and productive NBA career. Known for outsmarting his opposing centers, Schayes was a member of the NBPA’s negotiating committee during one of the union’s most contentious battles with former NBA commissioner David Stern
- Amar’e Stoudemire
Years Active: 14 (2002 to 2016)
Teams: Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat
Awards: 2003 Rookie of the Year, All-NBA First Team 2007, NBA All-Star 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2020, 2011.
One of the league’s most dominant big men during the prime of his career, Stoudemire, from Lake Wales, Fla., was the consolation prize for the New York Knicks in free agency after they missed out on LeBron James in 2010. He was the ninth overall pick of the 2002 draft and scored 15,994 career points and won a bronze medal as a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. He later played professionally in Israel after converting to Judaism.
- Dolph Schayes
Years Active: 15
Teams: Syracuse Nationals, Philadelphia 76ers
Awards: NBA All-Star Game (1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962), All-NBA First Team (1951-52, 1952-53, 1953-54, 1954-55, 1956-57, 1957-58), Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1973)
Schayes had his No. 4 retired by the Philadephia 76ers, with whom he played the final season of a 15-year career that included 14 seasons with the Syracuse Nationals team that relocated and became the Sixers. A career 18.5 points-per-game scorer who attended DeWitt Clinton High School in his home borough of The Bronx, N.Y., he played in 97 career playoff games and won a championship in 1955 before being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Parameters of Rankings
All rankings are subjective, but what we went for here was a list that encompassed great accomplishments both on and off the court, especially when factoring in the coaching part of the equation.
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