The New Aliyah: Locked-Out Hoopsters Take to the Holy Land

Jewish guards Jordan Farmar and Jon Scheyer among Israeli basketball's new talent pool.

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Click photo to download. Caption: Maccabi Tel Aviv’s new shooting guard, Jon Scheyer, on Aug. 30 in Ben Gurion Airport with his new Teudat Oleh, given to new immigrants. Credit: Sasson Tiram. (Download additional photo here. Jon Scheyer with his luggage at Ben Gurion Airport. Credit: Sasson Tiram.)

While labor unrest has been unsettling for the National Basketball Association, the league’s ongoing lockout has proved to be a boon for the Jewish homeland.

Many American players, from stars to the lesser known, are exploring the option of playing overseas during the work stoppage. Most are seeking deals in Europe squads, but a handful of players have signed in Israel. For players under contract in the NBA, their Israeli agreements allow them to return to America once the lockout ends.

New Jersey Nets’ point guard Jordan Farmar, who had his bar mitzvah in Israel and once raised $66,000 for a Chabad House in his hometown of Los Angeles by shooting 37 free throws in 90 seconds, will take his talents to Maccabi Tel Aviv.

“A nice Jewish boy has landed in Israel,” Gur Shelef, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s manager, told his boss, club co-owner David Federman, upon Farmar’s arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport Aug. 25.

Farmar, who won two NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, spoke to reporters about the possibility that he might have to leave Maccabi Tel Aviv should the NBA lockout come to an end.

“I have no control over this,” Farmar said. “But there’s a business aspect, and part of my contract is that once the NBA lockout is over I will have to go back. I am sure that I will have strong bond with the guys and I know that I would not want to leave.”

Joining Farmar on Maccabi Tel Aviv is another Jewish guard, Jon Scheyer, who was not drafted by an NBA team after winning a national championship with Duke University in 2010

Scheyer officially made aliyah Aug. 30, arriving on a group flight with Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN). NBA agent Brad Ames helped Maccabi Tel Aviv recruit the 24-year-old shooting guard, who is originally from Northbrook, Ill, NBN said.

“Nefesh B’Nefesh has been extremely helpful throughout the whole process and has allowed to me to hit the ground running so I can fully concentrate on playing the best basketball I can,” Scheyer said in a statement.

Here are other American hoopsters who, as long as the lockout persists, you can only watch with an Israeli television package:

•Washington Wizards forward Trevor Booker, a former first-round pick out of Clemson University who averaged 5.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game as a rookie, signed a one-year contract with Bnei HaSharon.

•Philadelphia 76ers forward Craig Brackins, a former first-round pick out of Iowa State University, signed with Maccabi Ashdod.

•Center Sean Williams, a former New Jersey Net who played for the Dallas Mavericks’ developmental league team last season, agreed to a contract with Maccabi Haifa. Williams once blocked 13 shots in a game for Boston College.

•Forward Jarvis Varnado, the all-time leading shot blocker in Division I college basketball history and a second-round draft pick of the Miami Heat in 2010, signed with Hapoel Jerusalem. 

—With reporting from Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JNS

Jacob Kamaras is the Editor-in-Chief of JNS.

Posted on December 5, 2011 and filed under Sports.