UCLA's Jewish Jordan
He's a real, live Jewish kid from the heart of Los Angeles, whose step-father is Israeli and has visited Israel twice. But Jordan Farmar, UCLA's superstar guard, has no intention of coming to play for an Israeli team. Why should he, NBA scouts are already waiting for him to graduate
At a certain stage in the conversation with Jordan Farmar, politically correct was all I wanted. A pinch of flattery, no more. I didn't try to do to arouse the Jewish soul in him, to ignite a small spark of a Zionist link, to turn him into one of us, an Israeli
Farmar, age 19, the excellent point guard of UCLA, is really very far from Israel. He does not see himself in the Middle East – either as a citizen or a basketball player.
Farmar's future in the best league in the world is almost guaranteed. He does not need to look for assurances in the holy land. He is a certified authentic Jew. But in everything tied to basketball, he is simply a good player. An exceptional talent with a bright future.
"I am a Jew," Farmar says, "and even though I don't define myself as a believing Jew, I am certainly part of this people and it is also a part of me. There is no sense in denying this. "But I'm not the one who plays up the fact that I am a Jewish basketball player. I want to be a player admired by everyone, and not just one community or another. Look, I am also half black," he says.
Jordan Robert Farmar was born on November 30, 1986 in Los Angeles to Damon Farmar, a minor league baseball player and his Jewish wife Mindy. The couple divorced in 1988, two-year-old Jordan remained with his mother, who married an Israeli immigrant named Yehuda Kolani who adopted Jordan.
16 years later, Jordan Farmar is a star guard for the UCLA basketball team.
"I've had three main influences on my life," says Farmar, "From my father I learned what it means to be a sports figure and what you need to invest in order to succeed. From my mother I learned how important it is to be a good person and take pains for your education and personal security. From Yehuda I learned what persistence and obligation are all about. I never met a person who worked so hard.
How would you describe yourself as a player?
"I am a guard, and therefore I understand the game and see things on the court before they happen. I know to pass the ball at the right time, but on the other hand I also know to score points myself, to take the ball to the basket or take a shot from the outside. Despite this, I still need to strengthen myself and I am working on this now.
Who do you most want to emulate as a player?
"Michael Jordan, of course. In my eyes he is so wonderful, not only because he was a tremendous player, but also because of the way he worked on himself until the end of his career.
So why don't you enter the professional draft straight away?
"I am enjoying things at the moment at UCLA, not only on developing as a basketball player, but also on my academic studies I know that I won't be able to play forever, and I've got to plan for a career after basketball."
Regarding his Jewish faith,
Farmar prefers to keep a low profile and hopes that his sport profile will overshadow it. "I am a Jew and I grew up in a Jewish home," says Farmar, "but now that I've left home I can say that I conduct a Jewish way of life. I try to take the good things from all religions, even though I identify with the Jewish people and feel part of it."
It looks like you'll be the first Jewish player in the NBA since Danny Schayes.
"I want to be an important force in the whole world, not just the Jewish community. I already hear children on the basketball court in Los Angeles talking about me and copying me and it makes me feel fantastic.
As mentioned above, Farmar plays down discussion about his ethnic origin, and says he doesn't feel anything special for Israel.
"I visited Israel a couple of times," he says. "The first time I was too small to remember. The second time I stayed three weeks. I hiked all over the country; I liked the beaches in Eilat and Tel Aviv, and all the historic places. I had a great time, but it is hard to say I developed a special connection to the country."
UCLA coach: attributes of a great player
For his part, UCLA head coach Ben Howland gushes with enthusiasm for his second-year star.
"Jordan had an outstanding freshman season, capped by receiving the prestigious honor of Pac-10 Freshman of the Year," says Howland. "He has the ability to make plays for others and create opportunities for his teammates. Equally important, he has the great ability to score around the basket as well as from three-point range, and he's an outstanding foul shooter. His rebounding ability is also noteworthy for a point guard, last year averaging nearly 4.0 a game.
"Jordan has had a very production off season. He has improved his strength by adding 10 pounds through hard work in the weight room. I'm expecting Jordan Farmar to have an outstanding sophomore campaign.
"Jordan is very competitive. He sets very high goals and aspirations for himself and his teammates. At all levels, he is driven and motivated, factors you always find in outstanding players. He's very, very intelligent, both in the classroom and on the basketball floor. Jordan Farmar is unselfish in everything he does and is very close to his family."