It’s been over a decade since a Sports Illustrated article turned him into an overnight celebrity and yet there’s still always someone that recognizes him in public at shopping malls, airports and the like.
“Are you the Jewish Jordan?” they ask.
Yes, Tamir Goodman tells them, that’s me. After all, Goodman’s still pretty easy to spot after all these years with his boyish face, fair skin and fiery red hair under a yarmulke.
That’s a much longer reply. The short answer is that Goodman is now living with his wife and three children in a Cleveland suburb, where he coaches basketball at a private Jewish school that goes up to eighth grade, runs camps and clinics, and serves as a motivational speaker.
The long answer — well, how much time do you have?
When the SI piece was published in February of 1999, his story was like something out of a movie.
Goodman was a junior at the tiny Talmudical Academy in Pikesville, Md., just north of Baltimore. That season, he averaged 38 points and committed to play at the nearby University of Maryland, one of the premier programs in the country. His fellow students had already started calling him Jewish Jordan.
It was an unusual sight: An Orthodox Jew who dominated while wearing a yarmulke and could be seen balling at the Dome, a legendary streetball court in East Baltimore.
ESPN and “60 Minutes” came calling and soon everyone wanted a piece of Goodman. At one point, things got so crazy he says he received 700 media requests in one week alone.
“I had no idea what was going on,” Goodman said. “I still probably don’t. It changed my life. It definitely changed my life. But ultimately I just always wanted to help other people through my story.”
The Hollywood script hit a snag the following September when Goodman announced he wouldn’t become a Terrapin after all. As an Orthodox Jew, he could not play during the Sabbath from sundown on Friday until three stars appear in the sky on Saturday night.
For Goodman, Saturday was and still is a day of rest, not basketball.
That was a slight problem for a basketball powerhouse in the ACC. On a roster of only about a dozen players, how could coach Gary Williams afford to have someone on scholarship that only played in around half the games?
So the two went their separate ways and Goodman ended up at Towson, a tiny program nearby with a coach who was willing to accommodate Goodman’s observance of the Sabbath. In fact, the team changed its schedule so it didn’t have any games or practices on Friday night or Saturday.
Goodman started 23 games as a freshman and averaged 6.0 PPG and 4.0 APG. While the numbers might not have been Jordan-esque, Goodman was overjoyed to be playing Division I basketball and staying true to his religious beliefs.
But Towson’s coach was fired after the 2000-01 season and replaced with someone Goodman didn’t share the same relationship with. Things came to a head when the new coach allegedly held a chair over Goodman’s head after a game that December and kicked a stool that hit his player in the leg. Goodman left the team and college basketball for good.
“After that happened, I was completely broken — spiritually and physically — I wanted nothing to do with basketball anymore,” Goodman said. “I was down, I was really, really down.”
Meanwhile, Gary Williams and the Terrapins were on their way to Maryland’s first basketball national title led by Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter. Instead of figuring out his ring size, Goodman was trying to find a place he could just play the game. He eventually regained his passion for basketball and started training day and night to play professionally since transferring would have required Goodman to sit out a year.
That summer at the age of just 20, he signed with Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv, a European powerhouse. It gave Goodman the incredible opportunity to play professionally and also live in the Jewish holy land.
But there were more setbacks overseas, as Goodman’s five seasons of playing pro ball between volunteering for the Israeli Army were marred by constant injuries. By the time he was finally done playing in 2009, his left knee was a mess and both hands were so badly damaged that he could barely catch a basketball.
And yet he continued to come back from the injuries until he physically could no longer play because he wanted to inspire people and represent Israel like he had always done. But in September of ’09 Goodman brought his career to a close at the age of 27, just a decade removed from the SI article that made him famous.
“Both my hands and my knee are very, very weak right now and probably will be forever,” Goodman said.
While most prep phenoms would look back on a college and pro career like Goodman’s and see nothing but frustration and bad fortune, he takes the exact opposite mindset and believes everything that happened to him in basketball to be pre-ordained in order to teach him how to help others.
“All my injuries were my biggest blessings because the first part of my career, I only knew success. I had tremendous amounts of success… How can you inspire someone if you’ve never felt struggle before, if you’ve never felt adversity before?”
And don’t tell Goodman that a career averaging five points a game in college and riddled with injuries in the pros was a disappointment.
Said Goodman: “Society tends to, for basketball players, define success as, ‘Where do you play?’ or, ‘How many points do you score a game?’ For me, I learned that success is what good you can do for someone else through basketball.”
And that’s why today you now find Goodman in northeast Ohio using basketball as a tool to teach kids about life, sharing his story to inspire others and sounding more like the Jewish Tim Tebow than the Jewish Michael Jordan.
But there’s no use in now fighting the nickname that made him famous and will stick with him forever. So just how does he feel about it anyway?
“I never asked to put it on myself, but once it came I tried to make the best of it,” says Goodman, who grew up loving “His Airness” so much he used to sneak Jordan gear under his school uniform.
Noting the audaciousness of a nickname comparing him to the greatest basketball player of all time and his childhood hero, Goodman adds with a laugh, “Hopefully one day I’ll get a chance to meet Michael Jordan and apologize.”