“The reason, I suspect, that basketball appeals to the Hebrew with his Oriental background, is that the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness,” wrote Paul Gallico, one of the premier sportswriters of the 1930s.
Maybe. More likely, when a new American sport ideal for cramped, urban spaces and attractive to lower-class people denied other economic opportunities emerged in the early part of the 20th century, you simply got a lot of Jews shooting hoops. Many of early basketball’s best athletes were Jewish, and Jewish success on the court continued into the 1940s and ’50s—reaching its apex with Dolph Schayes, who played from 1948 to 1964 and is generally considered the greatest Jewish basketball player of all time—before a change in the style of play and the integration of the NBA (which happened in no small measure because of the great Boston Celtic coach Red Auerbach, also Jewish) eased Jews away from their dominance.
But the story of Jews in American basketball remains one to be proud of. Which is why we’ve teamed up with FreeDarko, the amazing five-year-old collective of basketball writers known for its wit, one-of-a-kind drawings, and revealing focus on unorthodox statistics, to let you select your top all-time Jewish-American starting five, plus a Jewish coach, naturally. (FreeDarko’s new book The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History would make a great Hanukkah present, by the way, as would the cool knickknacks you’ll find in its store.) Plug in as many combinations as you want to get a squad that plays the style you think is best. And afterward head to a court and take a few shots. It’s your birthright.