6.11.2006

NBA Jewish Semiotics #1



I know yesterday would've been a better choice for one of FreeDarko's periodic cabal meetings, but I was too busy waiting on this shit to bother with the livelihood of my people.

Although I hadn't planned on posting until after tonight's game, something's come up that practically demands an official FreeDarko reaction. It came to me on the wings of Matt at Detroit Bad Boys, who deserves some kind of cash prize for compiling a certain weird-ass post on what the Heat expect of their Jewish fans:

Raanan Katz, who partly owns both Maccabi Tel Aviv and the Miami Heat basketball teams, said that the Heat's upcoming duel against the Dallas Mavericks will be very tough."


"God can always help; we need him on our side against Dallas," said Katz. "Every Israeli must support us; they must go the Western Wall and pray for us. Miami Heat is no less Israeli than Maccabi. This is also a group with Israeli ownership in which many Americans play."


Matt shrewdly observes that this was given to an Israeli news service. But much like that time Kobe offered himself up for the cause, it's that leap into overzealous weirdness that's, well, overzealous and weird. Granted, Katz is at least speaking as a member of the gang, making the plunge into Judaica somewhat less improbable. Still, the presumption that he bears the right to annoint the Heat a team for all Jews strikes at least this bar mitzvahed fan as fairly insulting. It's hardly our town anymore, and in the absence of even a token member of the tribe on their roster, I have trouble believing that they are in any way a "Jewish" team.

The key, though, might lie in the use of "Israeli" over "Jewish." While I am unclear what the mention of "many Americans" stands for, Katz is appealing to that most central of Israeli values: nationalism, which trumps even cultural chauvunism. Israelis, or those excessively sympathetic to them, can claim that kind of solidarity-under-fire that overrides all conversation, making Katz's reminder that he's one of them enough to compel their support. Culture demands answers and credentials; embattled nationalism is strictly out for warm bodies. Katz isn't trying to convince Israelis to pull for the Heat—instead, he's pointing out to them just how little choice they have in the matter.



PS: Israel in the seventies is almost as underrated as the Latin seventies.

8 Comments:

At 6/11/2006 10:43 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

You totally missed the point here. The key quote is, "Miami Heat is no less Israeli than Maccabi. This is also a group with Israeli ownership in which many Americans play." The article isn't about the Jewish semiotics of basketball in America. It's about the racial semiotics of basketball in Israel.


After all, Maccabi Tel Aviv won the Euroleague championship with a team anchored by (black) American expats. The Miami Heat, a team with no distinct Jewish-ness to it at all... is just as Israeli as Maccabi Tel Aviv.


It's about the cultural politics of Israeli life. Israelis are, as you pointed out, extremely nationalistic. The majority of the country has no problem rooting for Maccabi in the Euroleague even though the only thing making it Israeli is its ownership and a few bench players.

 
At 6/11/2006 11:15 PM, Blogger Cameron J. said...

Tangent (not to discredit the post, which was as illuminating as ever): is anybody else greatly disquieted by the shape of the golden calf, the NBA finals trophy itself? Maybe it's my prissy design aesthetics coming out, but the damn thing is hideous. It looks like a goiter on top of an ice cream cone.

 
At 6/12/2006 12:00 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

aaron--if memory serves, you have a habit on jumping on things i say about israel or hard-line jewish identity. in this case though, you're probably right; i did "miss the point," insofar as i waited till the end to indicate how it couldn't in fact have taken it to apply to jews writ large. but i think you can understand how it might be bizarre to hear someone talking about american basketball while referring only to the jews of a far-off land. especially in miami, a city that has something a historical relationship with the jewish people.

if the first paragraph was a false start, it was one that, on some level, any american jew reading those comments couldn't help but rehearse in his head.

 
At 6/12/2006 1:17 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

let me be a little more clear about it:

1. God: jewish, not israeli
2. Western Wall: jewish, not israeli
3. invocation of "israel" when following those two: biblical, spiritual concept, people of the covenant, not necessarily only the present-day state of israel.

 
At 6/12/2006 4:03 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

I suppose I do have a habit of jumping on you about anything you say about Jewish identity on this blog. I've got strong opinions about Jewish identity, and I think we probably disagree about a lot of fundamental points. Don't take it too personally.

But while I suppose I can see the confusion an American Jew might feel about the owner's statements, I a)don't think that Dallas vs. Miami is a meaningful battle in the war of Jewish identity, no matter how much importance Miami has to Jewish idenity and b)don't think any Jew, Israeli or American, is really going to take seriously the owner's statements.

Let's be clear, also, that the Western Wall is religiously significant to Jews and politically significant to Israelis. And that God and Israelis is a complicated identity issue- that it is by far overstating it to dismiss Israelis as secular.

I will probably continue to be confused when you use wax poetic about the Biblical Israel, as a result, but I will try to figure out the distinctions you are making as well as I can.

 
At 6/12/2006 8:49 PM, Blogger GentleWhoadie9000 said...

I have plenty to say about all this, but I will sublimate those thoughts and put forward something else entirely:

What happened to Derron Scheffer?

 
At 6/15/2006 3:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, Shoals. It's the kind of thing that I, as a non-Jew, couldn't write without serious attack. The separation of "Jewish" and "Israeli" is so seldom made, to the point that one cannot question Israel without being accused of hating the Jewish people. This destroys any attempt at getting to the heart of a lot of matters that are far more significant than basketball. I commend you, sir.

 
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