While both Duke and UNC fans may think of themselves as “the Chosen People,” traditionally, that designation has been granted to the Jewish people. With a few notable exceptions, these people have not been well represented in professional or collegiate sports, leaving adolescent young Jews without many athletic role models. This time of year can be especially lonely for those of us who won’t be spending the next two weeks wearing snowflake sweaters, hugging family members by the fireplace and bravely defending the war against Christmas. But don’t fear, sports fans. Did you know that there are a select few sons of David who played at Duke and UNC? (Probably, right?) Just as Adam Sandler offered his list of famous Jews to brighten the spirits of lonely twelve-year-olds, I present my list here for your Hanukkah enjoyment: One Tobacco Road Jew for every candle of the menorah!
Jon Scheyer – G – Duke
Jon Scheyer is perhaps the most obvious candidate for the list, as his basketball and Jewish credentials are impressive and somewhat intertwined. In High School, he led an all Jewish starting five to a state championship, earning him his first induction into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He earned his second induction after leading Duke to a National Championship in 2010. Today, he plays in Israel for Maccabi Tel Aviv, where his Judaism conveniently saves him from counting against the team’s cap on foreign players.
The great Bethlehem Shoals once asked what it would mean for a player to play Jewish (the way that, say, Rudy Fernandez or Jose Calderon play Spanish), and struggled to find a good example in the NBA. I posit that Scheyer’s steady scoring (2,077 career points, good for tenth all-time at Duke), his spastic facial expressions and his, um, carefulness, with handling the ball (~3 A/TO in 2010) make him the best example I can think of.
For what it’s worth, I once saw Scheyer come half an hour late to Yom Kippur services, only to leave like five minutes later, so take from that what you will.
Lennie Rosenbluth – F – UNC
Rosenbluth is recognized as one of the all-time greats to play at UNC, ranking third on TRB contributor Adrian’s excellent list of Carolina’s 100 Greatest Players. In addition to being a nationally renowned Jewish athlete in the days before Sandy Koufax rose to stardom, he was a absolute mensch in the 1957 season, averaging 28.0 points and 8.8 rebounds a game and earning National Player of the Year honors on the way to winning UNC’s first actual National Championship. After graduating, he had a short pro career with the then Philadelphia Warriors, starting UNC’s trend of producing mediocre NBA players.
Art Heyman – G/F – Duke & Larry Brown – G – UNC
In the days before Long Island was a hotbed for SAT cheating scandals, it was actually a hotbed of basketball talent. Heyman and Brown were rivals from their High School days, and it seems natural that they would end up playing college ball at Duke and UNC. Heyman had actually committed to UNC before Vic Bubas brought him over to the dark side. Their infamous brawl in 1961 is credited with bringing the rivalry to a more intense level, and setting a precedent for similar acts of aggression against Eric Montross and Tyler Hansbrough.
Legend has it that after Heyman nailed a jumper in Brown’s face, Brown told him his mother’s kugel tasted like it had been made by a goy. This incited Heyman to foul Brown hard on the other end of the court, starting the brawl. (I would have added a picture of Brown playing, but, you know.)
Bobby Gersten, Danny Geller, Roy Asche – UNCThis is the point in the list when we’re really digging deep. I wasn’t able to learn much about these fellas, other than that they played at UNC in the late 30’s/early 40’s, and that Gersten’s name used to be Gerstenzang, and that their mothers were all very proud of them. Also, according to that picture, Gersten would give Izzy Mandelbaum a run for his money.
Ed Newman – OL – Duke
So, to my knowledge, we’ve run out of basketball players. Ed Newman was an offensive lineman at Duke from 1969-72, made 4 Pro Bowls in 10 seasons with the Miami Dolphins and is now a County Judge in Miami.
Brian Zoubek* – C – Duke
*Not actually Jewish, just from New Jersey.
Well, that was underwhelming. Perhaps some of our older readers can fill me in on the countless Jewish players from the 40’s and 50’s I must have overlooked. On behalf of Jews everywhere, I’d like to wish all Duke and Carolina fans (chosen or not), a Happy Hanukkah and a bountiful New Year.