To the average eye, it might not appear that Tamir Goodman and Omri Casspi have much in common. But the two men share two very special bonds: basketball and Judaism.
Because of these bonds, Goodman, 30, teamed up with the 24-year-old Casspi to create a three-Sunday basketball camp in Beachwood. About 80 kids, grades 1-8, attended the first part of the camp this past Sunday, June 10, at Beachwood Middle School.
The camp will train kids in basketball while adding related life lessons from their diverse experiences. The two leaders said it’s been a ball working together thus far, something they never imagined would happen when they first met several years ago.
“God has mysterious ways, so you never know,” Cleveland Cavalier guard/forward Casspi said to WFNY. “I’m just happy and fortunate enough to do it and see the kids having fun.”
For both Jewish basketball stars, the camp provides an opportunity to pass along their knowledge to Cleveland area kids.
“I like it a lot, I think we share the same value in that we know that there’s so much more in the sport of basketball than just basketball,” Goodman said. “We share that value and we want to help and inspire as many kids as possible through basketball.”
“You can learn a lot from sports,” Casspi said, “not just in being in the NBA and being a professional basketball player, but you can learn a lot about yourself, have self-confidence and learn about yourself more when you are playing sports. Each and every individual can learn a lot.”
‘House of Omri’
Goodman acted as the lead director of Sunday’s camp and his enthusiasm was obvious from the get-go. Despite his unassuming demeanor – aided by the fact his red hair was covered by a traditional yarmulke – the 6-foot-3 Goodman was capable of yelling and screaming to the crowd with blistering passion. His signature “Two claps!” closing line to every single powerful sentence was met with thunderous back-to-back applauds from the crowd.
But if Goodman was the super-organized conductor, then Casspi was the rock star. When the 6-foot-9 dark-haired Israeli first entered the building, whispers of “He’s here!” spread rapidly throughout the gym until the towering figure appearing. On the court, dozens of kids wore his jersey, either with the Cavaliers or one of his former Israeli club teams.
Also assisting Goodman and Casspi were about a dozen other camp leaders, mostly coaches from Notre Dame College, local high school players and a couple of former European professionals now living in Cleveland. These individuals wore white T-shirts with “House of Omri” written on the front in both English and Hebrew, along with “Casspi 36” on the back in wine and gold. The kids, along with Goodman and Casspi, mostly wore red camp T-shirts with the camp logo and a list of sponsors.
The first lesson of the three-part camp was ball-handling, which Goodman equated to becoming a better person in life. He emphasized staying low (humble), not taking any extra dribbles (shortcuts) and keeping your head up. To reiterate this final point, Casspi shared a story of a time when he overcame struggles.
“Keeping your head up reflects a lot more in real life,” said the Israeli in bringing up a time where he thought his ground-breaking pro career might be in jeopardy. “I always had to keep my composure, keep my head up and keep on getting better every day.”
And so the hoops, sprinkled in with some life lessons, continued on for the rest of the day in a unique camp environment. Following the ball-handling introductions, the campers rotated between the different coaches – with Goodman and Casspi roving to provide additional support – ate lunch and played a few pick-up games divided by age groups.
The first part of the three-Sunday camp, however, was only as spectacular as the story behind that duo that made it possible.
To anyone else that just went through Tamir Goodman’s past 12 years, which took him from Sports Illustrated to a short professional career marred by injuries and then to Cleveland, it would be difficult to muster up the kind of happiness that was on display Sunday.
But that’s just Tamir, an Orthodox Jewish kid once dubbed by SI as the “Jewish Jordan” while he was a star high school junior in Maryland in 1999. The only problem with his future stardom that he wouldn’t play or practice on the Jewish Shabbat – which lasts from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday night.
Thus, he turned down a much-hyped scholarship offer to the University of Maryland, and instead attended tiny Towson University in Baltimore. Goodman had a solid freshman season, averaging 6 points and 4 rebounds, but then left the school amid controversy in December 2001. Seven months later though, his basketball dream came true when he signed a contract to play professionally in Israel.
In Israel, he had a few average seasons, but struggled to recapture his former glory because of continuous injuries. While he played on a number of good teams, he mostly viewed games from the bench, which led to his first encounter with Casspi.
“I remember the first time we played against him and it was his first professional year,” Goodman said. “He was young, but the team I was playing on, we had a lot of veterans on our team. And I remember the first time we played against him, he got in the game and within his first couple of minutes he had a baseline reverse dunk. And we got back to the locker room, and even though we were on the opposing team, I remember the veterans saying, ‘Wow that kid is something special.’”
Chronic injuries kept hindering Goodman’s career and, despite a brief one-year return to an American league and then back to Israel, he retired in 2009. He now lives happily in Cleveland, the hometown of his wife Judy Horowitz, whom he married after meeting originally in Israel. He now operates a brand-new non-profit organization, gives motivational speeches and organizes camps like this one.
Meanwhile, Casspi moved up in the food chain to play on the same Maccabi Tel Aviv team that Goodman began his career with and current Cavalier Anthony Parker starred for last decade.
The young prodigy continued his trail to stardom, becoming the first-ever Israeli to play in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings picked him No. 23 overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, and after a back-and-forth first two seasons, he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers along with a conditional first-round pick for J.J. Hickson in 2011.
Goodman said the two stayed in touch after their first meeting, and then he was ecstatic about Casspi’s trade to Cleveland. He said the new proximity promoted a new collaboration between the star American and the star Israeli hoopsters in a vibrant Jewish community.
“It’s just a blessing from God, I guess,” Casspi said about the teamwork leading up to the camp. “I got to Cleveland and he’s here, we reached out to each other, started talking and decided this was a good way for us to give back some of our knowledge of basketball.”
Both said they have enjoyed their brief stays in Cleveland so far. Goodman boasted that unique camp will be an unforgettable experience for the kids who get to participate in the activities and meet Casspi, a hero and a rock star to many Jews worldwide.
“We’re just so grateful that everyone is a part of this program and we’re going to continue doing this,” Goodman said. “We’re going to have camps throughout the fall, we’re actually going to have an elite camp here, in bringing kids from all over America to play here in Cleveland as well. So we’re doing a lot of fun things and we’re looking forward to it.”
Casspi added: “And it’s just fun, it’s all I can describe it. It’s just fun to be around and see so many Jewish basketball players trying and working hard.”
And if Sunday was any indication, where the two leaders seemed to be having as much fun wondering around as the 80 wide-eyed kids, then there’s no telling what could happen in the future.
The Omri Casspi/Tamir Goodman basketball camp continues Sunday, June 17, and then Sunday, June 24, at the Fuchs Mizrachi School and Agnon School in Beachwood, respectively. The next camp also will feature a special collaboration with Friendship Circle, which will bring along special needs children to train with the basketball stars. Also to be in attendance will be Cavs mascot Moondog and an additional Cavalier teammate. Registration is still available at www.tamirgoodman.com. Top photo above via Judy Horowitz.
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