Amar’e carves unique place in pantheon of Jewish athletes

Amar'e looking sharp in that yarmulke

The other day, I woke up at the crack of 1 p.m. to find that out of the blue, Amar’e Stoudemire is apparently either Jewish or a reasonable facsimile.

Considering my status as a somewhat practicing Jew, this was the greatest news ever.

Now I’m like most Jews in that we develop a fierce civic pride about Jewish athletes, even if they’re not really all that good. It’s hard to explain, especially since to be honest, though I am proud of my heritage, I’m not really all that Jewish.

I wear a chai around my neck – mostly because it used to belong to my grandfather – I fast on Yom Kippur, I like matzah year-round and I attempt to keep relatively Kosher for Passover. But I don’t believe in organized religion, never go to synagogue, and a Jewish wedding I’m attending this weekend will constitute the first yarmulke I’ve worn in quite a few years.

Doesn’t matter. If I find out an athlete is Jewish and has successfully reached any level above the local YMHA, he has my complete support, even if he’s not actually even good. And I’m not alone in that regard.

I think it’s that there really haven’t been a ton of great Jewish athletes over the years – think the pamphlet in Airplane! And I think every sports fan (not just Jews) wants to be an athlete deep down. It’s not a secret that Jews aren’t typically thought of as amazing athletes, so when a Scott Feldman pops up, it’s something we can get behind and take a little pride in.

My Jewish co-workers and I intently watch the baseball draft every year for two reasons: We’re paid to, and we’re scouting for future Major League Jews. We were ecstatic when the Mets drafted Ike Davis a couple years back, and it made it even better when he got to the Majors and could actually hit a bit.

The most Jewish of any of my favorite teams was the Mets in 2007, who had Shawn Green, Scott Schoeneweis and David Newhan. Of course, they were all lousy, and the Mets had the worst late-season collapse in baseball history that year.

That’s what makes the Amar’e news so tremendous. Not only are the Knicks getting a player who actually has some value, but the Tribe is getting a new significant member. As I’ve explained here, I was a fan of the Amar’e acquisition to begin with. Pair it with this news, and it makes it the greatest free-agent signing ever.

Carrie Mae StoudemireListen, for a Knicks fan still reeling from the disappointment of waiting on LeBron James for two years only to see him sign with Pat Riley – Pat Riley! – I needed something here.

I should probably check myself here slightly, in that Amar’e might not actually be Jewish. His mother apparently has Jewish roots of some sort, which you wouldn’t have guessed by looking at her, and Amar’e decided he wanted to explore his heritage.

I attempted to get some sort of clarification on this issue from Amar’e himself, but when I contacted his publicist, she told me he wasn’t available for comment. He’s probably still jet-lagged from his trip. Maybe we’ll revisit it over some apples and honey during the High Holy Days.

Regardless, whether or not he actually is a legitimate Jew, Amar’e remains a welcome addition. It honestly might make it cooler if he’s not Jewish. For Judaism to not even be his religion and to have him still be that apparently fascinated with it, I think it actually makes him a far better representative of the culture than I am.

It’s especially cool since it came out of nowhere. Amar’e apparently simply woke up one day and decided he wanted to embrace Judaism, and suddenly he was on a plane to Israel to learn Hebrew.

There was no scouting involved here, like with Davis, whose arrival I eagerly awaited for a few years while praying he didn’t suck. And if I had to pick someone to randomly fall into the Tribe out of nowhere, Amar’e would be pretty high on the list.

Now I’ve heard the rumblings that this is a marketing ploy given New York’s extensive Jewish community, most of whom have probably embraced Amar’e just as much as I have. The guy in charge of Gold’s Horse Radish seems pretty skeptical.

But Amar’e has put himself out there way too far for this to be nonsense. Spending a week in Israel is no joke; he could have just gone to some synagogue in New York where there’s no chance he gets hit by a mortar shell or something.

And I mean, the guy has a Star of David tattooed on his hand.

If someone – especially someone this cool – actually wants to be a Jew, or at least play one at parties, who the hell are any of us to tell him he can’t? As far as I’m concerned, Amar’e is as Jewish as gefilte fish, even if it’s just honorary.

So – lifting a tall glass of Manischewitz – here’s to you, Amar’e Stoudemire. I’d like to formally welcome you to the Tribe. You’re one of us now, sure to be immortalized in some Adam Sandler song in the near future.

And he’s absolutely making the right decision here. I mean, if Amar’e thinks all that Israel stuff is cool, wait until he finds out about chocolate covered matzah!

*****

By this point, you might be wondering – where does Amar’e actually rank in the hierarchy of Jewish athletes? It shouldn’t be surprising that right off the bat, he ranks pretty high. Here’s SportsAngle’s personal Top 10 list of the coolest Jews in sports:

1. Sandy Koufax: No-brainer. He refused to pitch on Yom Kippur. Over a six-year period, he went 129-47 with a 2.19 ERA, 35 shutouts and four no-hitters. Gangsta.

2. Hank Greenberg: Also wouldn’t play on the Kippur. Hit 58 home runs one year. Welcomed Jackie Robinson with open arms. Turned the Yankees down to go to NYU. Served during World War 2, honorably discharged two days before Pearl Harbor. Homered his first game back.

3. Amar’e Stoudemire: Just by walking in the door, he lands way up on the list. Hands down the greatest Jewish dunker in the world. Averaged 37 points against the Spurs in ‘05 playoffs. Screw the Spurs. According to Six Seconds or Less, liked to wear a Rolling Stones shirt but can’t name a single song. I happen to think that’s terrific.

4. Kurt Angle: Some people would bring up Bill Goldberg, but Angle would literally destroy him. Won an Olympic gold medal. Battle rapped against John Cena. (at right)

5. Rod Carew: Like Amar’e, not actually Jewish. But married a Jewish woman, raised his kids Jewish and got Sandler-ized. Had 3,053 hits.

6. Mark Spitz: Don’t ask me about specifics here, since I know nothing about this sport, but I know this guy’s the greatest swimmer of all time. Respect.

7. Jay Fiedler: A personal favorite. Took over for Dan Marino, won the AFC East in his first year somehow. A 9/11 patriot, as chronicled here. Met him at the Primetime Shootout in February and he couldn’t believe I owned his jersey. Promotes concerts or something.

8. Jon Scheyer: Another personal favorite. Played on all-Jewish starting five in high school, once scored 21 points in 75 seconds. Seems to be relatively funny (also, I’ve played in that gym many times). Won a national title as the most out-of-position point guard of all time.

9. Ryan Braun: Made the ad at right with Marisa Miller. That’s basically enough right there, but he’s also a wonderful hitter. Only his father is Jewish, but I don’t care, I’m claiming him. He’s the only baseball player to have Affliction make a shirt for him – which wasn’t good enough for him, so he helped to found his own guido t-shirt company.

10. Moe Berg: A backup catcher with a .243 career average, but he was a spy for the US Government. I’ll repeat, he was a spy for the US government.

Esoteric

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  3. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Amar’e Stoudemire, Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard will represent the Eastern Conference at Staples Center. The West starters are Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and injured center Yao Ming. …

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