The Jewish Sport Report: A deep dive into Jewish memory with Rocky Balboa


This article was sent as a newsletter. Sign up for our weekly Jewish sports newsletter here

Happy February, readers! This month brings us the Super Bowl, baseball’s Spring Training, and the NBA, NHL and NFL All-Star games.

This weekend, you can catch Jack Hughes (New Jersey Devils) and Adam Fox (New York Rangers) in the NHL All-Star Game on Saturday afternoon.

There are no Jewish players participating in the NFL Pro Bowl this weekend (a shanda), but you can always rewatch this amazing 61-yard field goal from Greg Joseph on Dec. 24.

Finally, you can still vote for Orthodox prospect Ryan Turell to appear in the G League Next Up game during NBA All-Star Weekend.

A deep dive into Jewish memory with Rocky Balboa

Paul Farber with the Rocky statue

Paul Farber is the creator and host of a new podcast about the Rocky Balboa statue in Philadelphia. (Gene Smirnov)

Rocky Balboa is a fictional character, and his statue in Philadelphia was first made as a movie prop. So why do millions of people from around the world visit the monument every year?

That’s the question monuments expert Paul Farber sets out to answer in his new NPR podcast “The Statue,” which explores the history and significance of the statue dedicated to “the most famous Philadelphian who never lived.”

Farber also learned some fascinating Jewish nuggets from the “Rocky” franchise. Not only is there the Jewish funeral scene in “Rocky III” — which he has thoughts about — but Rocky’s love interest Adrian was originally supposed to be Jewish.

I caught up with Farber this week to hear about how he got into the project — it started with a scolding from his mother, of course — and what Rocky, and sports fandom in general, can teach us about collective memory.

I found the conversation fascinating. Read it here.

Halftime report

A HOMA RUN. Golfer Max Homa won the Farmers Insurance Open last weekend, his first PGA Tour victory since becoming a father last year. Heralded for his humor and down-to-earth online persona, Homa is also helping the PGA step up its TV game, serving as a consultant of sorts. During the tournament last week, Homa conducted a live interview while playing.

THE JEWS OF FENWAY. Team Israel pitcher and veteran big leaguer Richard Bleier was traded to the Boston Red Sox this week. He is the second reliever, and second Team Israel member, that Boston baseball boss Chaim Bloom acquired in the past two weeks, joining Ryan Sherriff.

VROOM VROOM. Robert Schwartzman will begin the upcoming Formula One season as Ferrari’s reserve driver, just one step away from having his own seat in F1. The 23-year-old was born in Tel Aviv and spent the first three years of his life in Israel before moving to Russia and eventually Italy. He told Jewish Insider that he got his passion for racing from his father, who died in 2020.

KEEPING THE FAITH. The Forward talks to Ze’ev Remer, a point guard who plays basketball at California Lutheran University, about his experience as an Orthodox Jew at a Christian school. “If you just continue being stuck in an echo chamber, in Jewish day schools and with Jewish friends, you’re never gonna reach out and educate other people,” he said.

MENSCH ON THE BENCH. Journeyman catcher Ryan Lavarnway will head to Miami next month to play for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic. “Through this team, I kind of found my place in the community,” Lavarnway told sportswriter and baseball historian Gordon Edes. “The worldwide Jewish community embraced me, and I embraced it.”

HONORED, AGAIN. In 2021, Holy Cross basketball legend Sherry Levin had a mezuzah hung in her honor. Now the school has retired her jersey, too.

Meyers Leonard opens up about his antisemitic mistake

Meyers Leonard

Meyers Leonard of the Miami Heat warms up before a game against the Washington Wizards in Washington, D.C., Jan. 9, 2021. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

In March 2021, Miami Heat player Meyers Leonard made a life-altering mistake: he used an antisemitic slur while livestreaming on the video game platform Twitch. Leonard would be suspended and fined, traded and ultimately released.

Leonard apologized at the time, and immediately began a journey of learning and engaging with the local Jewish community in South Florida — a process known in Jewish tradition as teshuva.

The 7-footer spoke to Jewish ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap, in an interview that was featured this week on the ESPN Daily podcast and the “Outside the Lines” program.

As he eyes a return to the NBA, Leonard is opening up about the incident and how the Jewish community welcomed him in and helped him begin to heal.

Jews in sports to watch this weekend


Jack Hughes and Adam Fox are both representing the Metropolitan Division in the NHL All-Star Game tomorrow. Their squad takes on the Atlantic All-Stars at 4 p.m. ET on ABC.


Two Jewish players will take on the Nets tomorrow in New York. Deni Avdija and the Washington Wizards play the Brooklyn Nets at 6 p.m. ET, and former Yeshiva University star Ryan Turell will play his first game back in the Empire State at 7 p.m. ET when his Motor City Cruise take on the Long Island Nets. Y.U. fans plan to show up in full-force for Turell’s New York homecoming.


Jewish golfers David Lipsky and Ben Silverman are at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this weekend in California — a tournament that pairs pros with amateurs (including big-name celebrities). Silverman, who won the Bahamas Great Abaco Classic last week, will pair up with none other than Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Fool me twice…

Perhaps the biggest story in sports this week was the (second) retirement of legendary quarterback Tom Brady, who ends a 23-year career with seven Super Bowl rings. Reactions poured in from around the league, including from Jewish New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Brady’s former teammate Julian Edelman.

The timing is auspicious — the star-studded film “80 For Brady” hits theaters today. The movie has been panned already, but I’m not convinced Brady’s retirement isn’t just a marketing ploy. Oh well. I’ll still see it.

Recommended from JTA