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As the NBA lockout drags on — and with players and owners seemingly worlds apart — there's some NBA action going on overseas.
The Euroleague has attracted a handful of NBA players despite the unresolved labor dispute in the U.S., which can make playing overseas a bit complicated.
Jordan Farmar, just 24 years old, has an impressive basketball resume. He was a high school super star in California. He took UCLA to the Final Four. He won two NBA championships with his hometown team, the Los Angeles Lakers, before being shipped out to New Jersey.
In Israel, the 6-foot-2-inch point guard lingers on the court for a while to shoot a few extra dozen outside jump shots as he finishes practice with his new team. Maccabi Tel Aviv is Israel’s most storied pro-basketball franchise, founded in the 1930s. For Farmar, though, the idea of playing for Maccabi is relatively new.
“I guess it started with the NBA lockout. Basketball is how I make my living and support my family. And with the NBA being locked out and us not being able to go to work, I had to find other means," he said. “The other option was to sit at home and kind of wait around. So, I figured I would try to play at a high level and stay sharp, and get a different life experience in the meantime.”
Farmar has personal connections to Israel. He is one of a tiny handful of NBA players who are Jewish.
“My stepfather was born in Tel Aviv. He raised me in Los Angeles and that’s kind of where the connections began.”
So, it’s a match made in heaven – the Jewish NBA champ joins forces with the Israeli champions. But the arrangement also has risks.
Maccabi Nation is notoriously demanding. And everyone knows their new starting point guard could be gone any day. If the NBA lockout ends, Farmar is under contract with the New Jersey Nets, and would have to say goodbye to Tel Aviv.
“I’ve had ups and downs, but everybody’s been very supportive and just trying to get through this and grow together,” Farmar said before a recent game. “This is all new for me and new for them. It’s kind of a trial period for everybody.”
The biggest trial came the next day, when Maccabi played one of their Euroleague rivals, Real Madrid, at home in Tel Aviv. Farmar was coming off a less-than-stellar performance. Some Maccabi fans were starting to have serious doubts about Jordan Farmar.
“He’s quite disappointing so far,” said a self-descibed, life-long Maccabi die-hard named Orit. “He’s not the leader we expected him to be. As long as he’s our leading guard, we’re in trouble.”
Orit said Farmar was “too NBA.” She wants someone more “European” in his style of play, which is to say more of a team player who is less inclined to take the ball and drive to the basket.
Three minutes after tip-off, though, all was forgiven. Farmar scored the game’s first six points with three consecutive drives. The crowd ate it up.
Farmar had a brilliant game and helped defeat Real Madrid in the biggest game of the season so far.
In the locker room afterwards, Farmar sat looking over the night's stat sheet. He was clearly delighted with the way he was able to take control of the game.
“That’s the goal. That’s who I feel I am,” he said. “And what they brought me here to do, is to lead and to play at a high level. Some nights it’s going to be scoring, some nights it’s going to be defensive play or assisting or the little things. Tonight it was my night to really be aggressive and get to the basket a lot.
“Gotta make some more free throws,” Farmar said with a chuckle. “But other than that, it was really a good performance all the way around.”
Farmar’s coach at Maccabi is a fellow American, David Blatt. At one point, Blatt vowed not to sign any NBA players during the lockout, fearing it would be too disruptive for team-building. There were some rough patches when Farmar was getting used to the new style of play.
Blatt said it’s all coming together now. And now that his starting point guard is coming into his own, Blatt is glowing.
“We did have to speak with him and teach him some things about the European game, because they’re very different. And that’s one of the reasons that he started slowly, as have all of the NBA players – except those that are European to begin with. What he did tonight was memorable. Really memorable,” Blatt saiud after Maccabi knocked off Madrid.
Blatt is clearly hoping for more memorable performances. And he might get his wish. Farmar is in the process of applying for Israeli citizenship. He said he wanted to keep all his playing options open.
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