Why Tamir Goodman thinks basketball can change the world

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Tamir Goodman’s latest partnership is bringing new attention to the potential of sports to bridge even the most seemingly insurmountable divides. But he’s been a believer all along.

Goodman with campers at the Enes Kanter Freedom Unity Basketball Camp, held July 26- August 5, 2022 in Jerusalem. Photo by Yisroel Teitelbaum

Dubbed “the Jewish Jordan” by Sports Illustrated when he was still in high school, the Baltimore native, now 40, is a coach, entrepreneur, and public speaker living in Jerusalem with his wife and kids. He recently teamed up with Muslim NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom to direct an interfaith basketball camp at the YMCA in Jerusalem, where served as head coach at the intensive 10-day program.

Ranging in age from 11 to 17, the 40 boys and girls from different ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds in Israel and the West Bank came together to run a gauntlet familiar to anyone who attended a serious sports camp as a teen, including this writer: drills that hone existing skills and cultivate new ones, exercises that push young athletes to test and then stretch the outer bounds of what they think they are capable of.


“It’s training at a very intense level, and unless you love the game, you’re gonna want to leave after the first couple of minutes,” Goodman said, speaking via WhatsApp on Monday. “But if you love the game, you’re gonna have an amazing feeling of accomplishment and unity and growth.”

It’s a combination of pure joy and trial by fire, borne for the love of the game and in pursuit of self-improvement as a player; and it’s that commonality between participants – that love, that drive, plain on your face as you run down the court or leap to block a shot or catch a pass – that fosters camaraderie.

Goodman understands the power of shared love for the sport. That’s why he has used basketball camps and clinics as a vehicle for fostering relationships among diverse groups for 15 years.

Three days after the Enes Kanter Freedom Unity Basketball Camp came to a close, Goodman shared his thoughts on the experience, some of his other projects, and why Baltimore remains close to his heart.

(This interview has been condensed for length and edited for clarity.)

What led to your involvement with this camp?
You know, I grew up as an observant Jew in Baltimore, but I graduated from a predominantly African American Christian school called Takoma Academy – they were Seventh Day Adventists, so I was able to go there without playing on Shabbat. Then, I roomed at Towson with a Muslim basketball player, and I came over to play professionally in Israel for seven years,and I played with people from all over the world.

I just felt like, “Wow, these relationships, these amazing experiences I have in my life, are only because of basketball, and if it wasn’t for basketball, I would be missing out on a lot of the great things that have happened to me in my life. How can I share that with other people? How can I better the world through that shared love of basketball?” So I started doing cultural diversity basketball camps back in 2007.

Your first one was here, at the Owings Mills JCC.
The bond among the kids was so special that even now I see that the kids are still friends, the kids from the original first camp. Some of them went on to play professional basketball. Some of them are working in real estate. It doesn’t matter. They’re still very close and they have mutual respect and love for each other.

Goodman and Enes Kanter Freedom. Photo by Yisroel Teitelbaum.

I noticed right away back in 2007 that this really worked, so I dedicated a big part of my life to doing this. You can take basketball and unite people and bring them together and establish long lasting relationships and friendships amongst people who otherwise would have probably never even met.
This camp with Enes was such a great example of that. We had about 20 kids that were Arab and 20 kids that were Jewish, but the kids that were Jewish were from every type of Jewish background and the kids that were Arab – we had Arab Christians, Arabs Muslims. We had just a huge mix, also of ages and talent level. By the end of the program, the only thing that mattered was the love of the game, the sportsmanship, and the character that was shown on and off the court.

Were all of the Arab kids who participated Israeli Arabs?
They called themselves Palestinian. A lot of them called themselves Palestinian.

Was there ever a language barrier issue?
Everything was in English. The other coach with me, Ahmad, is from East Jerusalem. Once in a while he had to translate a couple of things for me to make it easier for the kids, but most of everything was in English.

When you want to draw participants to a program like this, how do you reach the people you want involved?
We work with a lot of amazing partners. We couldn’t do this without Athletes for Israel, Bnai Zion, and Together Vouch for Each Other. There’s also an organization called Kaleidoscope that works very closely with the city of Jerusalem, that works with the families in East Jerusalem, constantly trying to bridge the communities together.

What was a typical day like at the camp?
It was very intense training up until lunch: skill improvement, strength conditioning, plyometrics [a type of exercise training that uses speed and force of different movements to build muscle], power, speed, agility, power work. Just everything.

After lunch at 12:30, every day we would do the educational theme, “Bridging Communities.” It works so well, by the time camp’s over they know everything about each other: who has the biggest shoe size, when’s your birthday, who’s the tallest, who’s the youngest, how many siblings each person has, what they like to eat, what they don’t like to eat, what do they like to do in their free time. The whole point is that they realize that they have a lot more in common than they don’t have in common, so that’s when they build their friendships.

We would do that for half an hour a day, and then go back to basketball.

Was there any formal programming involving the parents?
No, but the parents started coming in more and more and just thanking us. They were just so happy, which made us so happy. You see different types of parents from different backgrounds and with different ways of dress, and none of that matters.

Feelings can run hot in Israel even at the best of times, so what was it like running a camp like this during a week when there was a military operation underway and rockets were flying from Gaza?
I can honestly say we got to camp as complete strangers and by the time camp was over, we left as family. That’s all I can say. The kids loved each other. We loved the players. They gave great effort every day, and they were all sad to say bye to each other on the last day. Nothing about Gaza came up. Nothing came up.

Also, just in general, where we had it at the YMCA in Jerusalem, it’s a very magical place. It’s a place for people to come together of different backgrounds. When you go to the YMCA in the morning, it almost feels like what it’s gonna feel like when Mashiach is here. Every single type of person is there, and every single person’s having a good time together. We were in the right place with the right people around it and the right support. Everything was great. We had the best kids.

Making memories. Photo by Yisroel Teitelbaum.

Did you run or coach at any other basketball camps this summer?
My first camp this summer was my annual elite camp for the committed player. Additionally, I oversee an organization with 30 locations in Israel called Hoops for Kids. We do after-school programming and basketball and mentorship for kids whose parents are in jail, or they’re in residential homes, or they’re asylum seekers like the kids from Ukraine that escaped to Israel – so we did a camp with them as well.

Hoops for Kids has programming year-round at an all-girls residential home in Bnei Brak run by the World Emunah organization. I thought it would be so cool to bring in the USA women’s basketball teams from the Maccabiah to train with them, just so our girls could see girls that are super successful and that they care about them, so we did that.

I collaborated on a cultural diversity camp with [former NBA star] Amare Stoudemire, then the one with Enes. Next week, I am flying to Florida for a two-day camp.

Was the camp with Amare Stoudemire a similar model to the one with Enes?
Specifically, the Enes camp was Arab, Druze and Jewish. Amare’s was like – man, we had everything. It wasn’t just Arabs and Jews. That was like, my gosh, everybody, everybody; but the Enes one was two weeks of intense uniting and bridging.

Do you have any camps or events that you do in Baltimore?
I’m trying to put one together. I’m coming to Baltimore in mid-September and I’ve been reaching out to different organizations and stuff to see if anyone would be interested in hearing me speak or do a mini clinic. I’d really love to
do it.

I always tell everybody: If I wouldn’t have grown up the way that I grew up and where I grew up, none of this would have been possible. I felt like I grew up in the perfect family in the perfect community with the perfect coach who just happened to live in Baltimore, or right near where I was growing up, and that none of this would have been possible otherwise. So I’m always attached to Baltimore, every day.

rkohn@midatlanticmedia.com

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