JERUSALEM (Aug. 29)
A Texas drawl, colorful ties and a bit of jazz have spiced up Israeli basketball telecasts. Eliezer “Lay Z” Gordon, a former U.S. college basketball star who was drafted by the top Israeli team in 1988, has converted Israel’s weekly basketball telecasts on Channel One from dull play-by-play affairs into lively evenings of often zany entertainment.
Gordon’s colorful English and southern-accented Hebrew have established him as a love-him-or-hate-him personality among Israeli basketball fans.
His peppery talk annoys more serious-minded aficionados, but just as many fans praise him for explaining the game in an accessible way, teaching a bit of English and injecting life into otherwise lackluster telecasts.
“Most of basketball terminology is not in Hebrew,” says Gordon. ” ‘Pick and roll’ has no Hebrew translation.”
Born in New York as Eliezer, Gordon’s family moved to the Tel Aviv area when he was 5. He excelled at both ba! sketball and piano, often performing music in venues where he was too young to drink.
“My father put me in the bar to play piano when I was 9, and I worked for a couple of summers,” he says. “When I was 15, they sent me to Houston so I could advance in basketball.”
There he spent a year living with relatives. Fearing anti-Semitism in his Texas high school, Gordon renamed himself Allen.
Though he soon discovered that almost half the school was Jewish, he continued calling himself by the English name for two years, until his parents moved from Israel to join him in Texas.
At that point, his mother, who now teaches about the Holocaust in Texas, made him an “incredible” offer — $1,800 — to change his name back to Eliezer. He later won a basketball scholarship to Baltimore’s Towson State University, where his friends found it easier to pronounce his name as “Lazer.”
When his father became deathly ill in Texas, Gordon transferred to Southwest Texas University! , where he became one of the country’s top three-point shooters.
G ordon was bypassed in the NBA draft, but Tel Aviv’s Maccabi team invited him back to Israel, allowing Gordon to fulfill a childhood dream of playing for the squad. It was with Maccabi that he adopted the nickname “Lay Z.”
” ‘Eliezer’ was kind of a drag,” he explains, so people came up with the nickname. Gordon spells it as a pun on the basketball term “lay-up.”
In Israel, Gordon spent most games warming the bench, so he started writing lyrics and music. After breaking his hand, “he read the math,” hung up his jersey and started coaching, playing music and, this year, color commentating with Channel One.
Anything but lazy, Gordon is now making a go of it as a musical entertainer. He composed and wrote “Lay it On the Line”, a jazzy ode to basketball that introduces every Maccabi Tel Aviv game, and he has performed the song before 10,000 fans in the Tel Aviv arena.
“I was born for show business,” Gordon says, noting that his grandparents were theater stars in Rus! sia before they immigrated to America 60 years ago. “On the court I was entertaining with my passing, talking to the referees and the crowd.”
On screen, he dresses according to the kind of game he expects.
“I once brought an umbrella because I was afraid the other team was going to rain three-pointers on us,” he says. “I wear a blue shirt when I am optimistic about Maccabi Tel Aviv and put on colorful ties when I think the game is going to be showy.”
Gordon likes to make people laugh.
“Once, a mild earthquake had hit the country,” he recalls. “When one of the players dunked a ball with all his might, I said it was 5.1 on the Richter scale.”
“Basketball has not been here for long,” he adds. “People would miss some of my professional views of the game because they don’t understand the terminology, but I explain and demonstrate them. A lot of people don’t even watch the game. They just like to laugh.”
Gordon now hopes to hear his “Lay it on the Line” befo! re NBA games. He says the league was interested but needs an American company to record and sell the song.
” ‘Lay It on the Line’ is my philosophy,” he says. “That’s a motto of going for who you are, going after your dreams, do what you love and give 100 percent. Whatever you have, you put it on the line and know you are doing your best.”
In addition to broadcasting, writing lyrics and gigging, Gordon also trains and teaches at basketball camps for young players.
“I teach them first to be a human being and than a basketball player,” he says. “I talk to the kids about manners, and we talk about accomplishing dreams. The aim is to help them make a better community and not make everyone into the next Bob Cousy.