Top 10 Jewish Basketball Stars – Thursday’s Top Ten List
Today’s Top 10 Ten features a subjective list of ten (what else?) of the greatest Jewish hoopsters to ever dribble a roundball.
Sure, there may currently be an NBA lockout, but that shouldn’t lock out our memory of these kings and queens of the hardwood. What follows is a list of players who were marquee stars in college, the NBA and in women’s hoops, along with a legendary player for Tel- Aviv.
So, here’s the jump ball; let us play.
10. Louis Herman (Red) Klotz: 1921–
Red Klotz is best known as the longtime player/owner of the Washington Generals, the team that perennially loses to the beloved Harlem Globetrotters. The Philadelphia native played at Villanova University before starring with the great Philadelphia Sphas—a team that once defeated the Globetrotters in an exhibition game.
Klotz’s teams (he has owned both the Washington Generals and New York Nationals) have been estimated to have lost roughly 7,800 consecutive exhibition games to the Globetrotters worldwide despite Red’s exceptional long-range marksmanship.
Klotz played briefly for the Baltimore Bullets of the NBA who won a championship in 1948.
9. Arthur Bruce (Art) Heyman: 1941 –
Hey, man, this native New Yorker was a great “big guard” who led his Duke Blue Devils to the NCAA championship game in 1963. He was voted the AP’s Player of the Year, the Outstanding Player of the Final Four, and the first pick in the NBA draft, by the New York Knicks. He was a three-time All-America selection.
Art made the NBA’s all-rookie team in 1963-64 and was a career 10 points-per game scorer. He shined even more in the old ABA, and was a part of the Pittsburgh Pipers’ 1968 championship team. His most famous teammate there was the great Connie Hawkins (Brooklynite, not Jewish), who was banned from the NBA at the time.
8. Harold S. (Bunny) Levitt: 1910–2006
Bunny Levitt was a 5’4” guard who once traveled as a special member of the Harlem Globetroppers. His greatest claim to fame? Levitt may have been the best free-throw shooter of all-time, once swishing an unbelievable 499 straight in 1935. We’re not sure if that record has ever been broken, or for that matter, what happened on attempt number 500
When traveling with the Globetrotters, shrewd owner Ape Saperstein had a promotion where he promised $1,000 to anybody who could make more free throws out of 100 than Bunny. In three years, Saperstein never had to pay a dime.
7. William Red Holzman: 1920–1998
Red Holzman is mostly celebrated as the charismatic head coach of the New York Knicks. He led a team featuring superstars Walt Frazier, Willis Reed and Bill Bradley to the franchise’s only two NBA championships (1970 and 1973). Red was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on the strength of his coaching.
However, this son of Russian and Romanian Jewish immigrants also could play a little ball in his day, and starred at CCNY. He played six years in the NBA, and helped the 1951 Rochester Royals garner a championship.
For more on Holzman, please find this wonderful obit from the New York Times by Ira Berkow.
The strong forward led his Maccabi Tel-Aviv teams to European Cup titles in 1977 and 1981. Berkowiz played one year for the University of Nevada Los Angeles (UNLV) before returning to Israel. Although coveted by both the New Jersey Nets and Atlanta Hawks of the NBA, his home team would not release him from his contract.
Bird won two New York state titles in high school, two NCAA titles with the University of Connecticut and two more WNBA championships with the Seattle Storm. Not one to miss out on more titles, she was also the point guard on two US Olympic gold medal teams.
Sue was also named to the WNBA’s 15th anniversary All-Time (15 players) squad. And she’s even younger than me.
4. Larry Brown: 1940–
Larry Brown was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002 on the strength of his wildly successful and sometimes wild coaching career. Space precludes me from listing all of his NBA coaching destinations and that does not even include college stops at UCLA (made it to the NCAA championship game) and Kansas (where he won the title.)
Prior to becoming perhaps the best teacher of the game, Brown starred for coach Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina and was one of the top point guards in the ABA. He is the only American hoopster to win a gold medal as both a player and coach.
LaRusso is yet another Brooklynite that became a star of the hardwoods.
A powerful, 6’7”, 220-pound forward, LaRusso starred at Dartmouth, where he led the Big Green to Ivy League titles in 1957 and 1958.
He would become a mainstay of some great Los Angeles Lakers teams, and formed a terrific complement to all-time greats Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Unfortunately, this wonderful team would finish runner-up to the Boston Celtics four times within a five-year stretch.
LaRusso would earn four all-star selections in a 10-year NBA career in which he averaged 15.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
Right out of high school, the 17-year-old became the youngest basketball player to ever win an Olympic medal, helping the U.S, team to the silver in 1976. After becoming the first female athlete to receive an athletic scholarship from Old Dominion University, she more than repaid the Virginia school with two National Player of the year Awards and two NCAA championships.
Lieberman was a pioneer and top player for professional leagues that were forerunners of today’s WNBA. She even signed a contract at age 40 to play for the WNBA’s Pheonix Mercury. It’s little wonder that Lieberman was the first female player to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame (1996).
Schayes enrolled at NYU and was an honors student in aeronautical engineering when he wasn’t dominating games on the hardwood. He led his team to the NIT championship game in 1948 before becoming one of the NBA’s most dominant players.
Dolph was the mainstay of the Syracuse Nationals, where he made twelve consecutive all-star teams from 1950-1961. His career averages were 18.5 points and 12.1 rebounds; in the playoffs, the ever-steady Schayes upped those marks to 19.5 and 12.2. Schayes also averaged more than three assists per game and shot 84.9% from the free throw line, leading the league three times in this category.
At the time of his retirement, Schayes was the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, and also ranked first in free throws attempted and made. He was a member of the NBA’s honorary 25-year and 50-year anniversary teams.
One more thing: Dolph’s son, Danny (all 6’11” of him), played 18 years in the NBA. Dolph was the coach of the 1977 US Maccabiah team that upset Israel in the final. One of his star players was Danny. That’s not fair…is it?
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About the Author: An author, speaker and custom writer from Cherry Hill, NJ, Matt loves to entertain people through his writing and public speaking. Laughs, Smiles and just enough Wisdom reach his audience through the magic of his written and spoken words. More about Matthew