Basketball icon Tal Brody ‘shocked’ over Sterling/NBA scandal

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

In Israel, Tal Brody is a revered national hero, icon and legend, a superstar akin to Michael Jordan in the United States. Brody, who also is regarded as a symbol of the young nation’s achievements, will be a guest speaker at the annual breakfast meeting of the St. Louis Chapter of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) on Sunday, May 18.

A University of Illinois All-American in 1965 and member of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, Brody joined the Maccabi-Tel Aviv team after leading his United States team to a Gold Medal in the 1965 Maccabiah Games. Brody led his 1977 Maccabi team to the European Cup championship. “The little team that could” won the tournament be defeating Italy’s best 78-77, and capturing the European title.

At Ilinois, the 6-foot 1½-inch guard won all-academic honors in 1965. That year, he was the 13th pick in the NBA draft, but chose to return to the university for his master’s degree. In 1968, Brody was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served primarily on the All-Army and All-Armed Forces basketball teams. His U.S. Armed Forces team finished third in the World Championships in Belgrade. In 1979, Brody was awarded the Israel Prize, the country’s highest civilian honor.

The Jewish Light caught up with Brody via email in Israel, where he found time to answer questions about Donald Sterling, the owner of the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers who was banned from the league by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, as well as the JNF and the state of sports in the State of Israel.

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I have to ask you about the controversy involving Sterling’s admitted racist comments and the lifetime ban from the NBA and association with the team by Silver. What’s your reaction?

I was shocked. I have met Donald Sterling several times before when he hosted our team at his home, and another time, running into him at the All-Star Weekend a few years ago. I always thought that he was a little strange, but hearing the racist remarks was like a “suicide bombing of stupidity” that deserved the condemnation of 100 percent of the public.

Should it be a source of embarrassment that Sterling is Jewish? If so, does Silver also being Jewish take away some of the sting?

No, because this is not a Jewish thing. If anything, Jews were probably insulted and ashamed just as any African-American. Adam Silver, whom I have known for years and just talked to him at the New Orleans NBA All-Star Weekend, showed the world why he was chosen for the position to replace the legendary and best commissioner ever, David Stern. After checking out the facts, his statement in response saved the NBA and stopped an avalanche of responses, which could have ripped apart the NBA for years.

Switching gears, what drew your interest to the JNF, and what is its current mission beyond its familiar tree-planting activities through the decades?

JNF has given us life in Israel, from the deep south of Sderot and Beersheba, to the far north of Shlomi, near the Lebanese border. Living in Israel since making aliyah some 47 years ago, I can see Israel’s footprint all over Israel. As Israel’s first (official) Ambassador of Goodwill, I speak for Israel, whether it is for the JNF, the Jewish Federations of North America, Taglit-Birthright, Young Judea, Hillel or on behalf of the Israeli consulates in the U.S. It is important that people hear what the real Israel is and not propaganda that those in the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement are trying to sell. But thank G-d, it is not succeeding at it.

A few years back there was a book on the challenges faced by an Israel pro baseball team. Is Israel sports-friendly to both amateur and professional sports?

Israel is the sports capital of the Middle East, and I will address this in greater detail in my talk in St. Louis. By the way, our basketball team, Maccabi-Tel Aviv, are invited back to the U.S.A. again to play the Cleveland Cavs on Oct. 5 and the Brooklyn Nets on Oct. 7. I guess you can get an indication from this that Israel is friendly to both amateur and professional sports, but this is not what the world unfortunately hears about Israel.