USATodayHSS/Photo: Jeff Witherow, Democrat and Chronicle
He was only a 17-year-old high school junior when Sports Illustrated dubbed him the “Jewish Jordan” in a four-page story in 1999.
Considering Tamir Goodman still had a year of high school left at Talmudical Academy in Baltimore, it was perhaps just a bit premature to make comparisons to basketball icon Michael Jordan.
“I never really liked the nickname,” Goodman said. “But I did know it wasn’t about me. It was about something greater.”
Indeed, that special something lives on in Goodman’s work. While Jerusalem is now his home, he spent the past week sharing a message of inspiration as he hopscotched the Great Lakes and Northeast.
The final stop of his trip came Sunday when he visited the Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester to conduct a basketball clinic in the afternoon and deliver a talk at night.
About 50 kids, ages 5 through early teens, took part in the clinic, with Goodman teaching a variety of drills and skills.
“I thought it was a really good experience,” said Sam Zarkowsky, 14, of Rochester. “Everyone from second grade to ninth grade was doing the same activities.”
Most of the kids hadn’t been born when Goodman was playing NCAA Division I basketball at Towson University in Baltimore, and they never really knew of his pro career in Israel, a career brought to a premature end by injuries in 2009.
But they listened intently to his advice, they emulated how he dribbled, and they tried a wee bit harder not to miss a shot when they knew he was watching.
“I thought it was cool he wanted to help out some kids at a JCC,” said Gilad Symons, 13, of Buffalo.
Actually Goodman is all about helping, on and off the court. He is sharing his experiences — of overcoming injuries, of holding firm to religious beliefs — when he speaks to classes and at banquets and gatherings.
During this tour he was at the University of Michigan, University of Rhode Island and Stony Brook University before coming to Rochester at the request of Rabbi Yitzi Hein, co-director of the Chabad of Pittsford.
“He has a very unique story of sticking up for his Jewish beliefs in a scary environment of big-time college basketball,” Hein said. “He has an inspiring message of sticking up for who you are and being proud of who you are. People respect people who respect their beliefs.”
While in high school, Goodman accepted a scholarship at the University of Maryland. But he refused to play games or take part in basketball activities during Shabbat. Towson agreed to not schedule games that conflicted.
He played professionally in Israel until knee and hand injuries made it impossible to continue. He now delivers a message of hope to others.
“There was simply no physical way I could play anymore, but I could do good through this game of basketball,” he said. “I overcame so many surgeries and so many setbacks in my career. Now it’s, ‘How can I inspire you to achieve greatness in your life?’ ”