(JTA) — Fans of the Jewish basketball star Ryan Turell, who is trying to become the first Orthodox Jew to play in the NBA, likely followed his debut season last year in the basketball minor league known as the G League, in which Turell played for the Motor City Cruise in Detroit.
Now, a new documentary about the G League season heavily features Turell, and his segments have a focus on his Jewish identity.
The film is called “Destination NBA: A G League Odyssey,” and it starts streaming on Prime Video on Tuesday. The film is a project of the sports and pop culture media company The Ringer and the Tom Brady-cofounded sports documentary outfit called, apropos for Turell, Religion of Sports.
“Destination NBA” takes turns following the seasons of several players at various stages of their basketball careers who are in the G League, which is the NBA’s official minor league.
One of them is Scoot Henderson, who played last year for G League Ignite and ended up the third overall pick in the NBA Draft, by the Portland Trail Blazers. Other G League players are journeymen on the fringes, while still others (such as film subject Denzel Valentine) are former high draft picks looking to work their way back to the NBA.
And then there’s Turell, who played in the G League last season at age 24, following a final season at Yeshiva University the previous year, when he was the leading scorer in all of college basketball. After the California native was not chosen in the following NBA Draft, Turell was drafted by the Detroit team with the 27th pick in the 2022 G League Draft.
The first time we see him in the film, he’s saying the blessings over Hanukkah candles. Later Turell, who wears a kippah on the court when he plays, is shown signing kippot for fans, and describing one particular basketball move as “The Spinning Dreidel.”
Turell also discusses how he handles playing basketball while observing the Sabbath — he’s willing to play during the day of rest, although he will not ride in a car or bus on the way there — and expresses interest in one day playing basketball in Israel. He has also been helped out by an area Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi in his observance, with challah he can eat in his hotel room during Shabbat.
In one scene, when his team visits Long Island for a road game, Turell is welcomed by numerous Jewish fans, including a large contingent from his alma mater. Viewers also see Turell cooking with his family and his Jewish mother gushing about him.
“I want to be a Jewish hero,” Turell says at one point in the film, repeating a sentiment that he has shared before.
Co-directors Liam Hughes and Bryant Robinson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Turell easily stood out in the process of selecting players to film.
“We started this film process by doing a wide talent pool of interviews with an almost impossible task of eventually narrowing our principal talent by more than half of what we started with. Ryan Turell immediately stood out because of the depth of his ‘why,’” Robinson said. “Unearthing ‘your why’ unveils the compass guiding your life’s true north. Ryan’s ‘why’ really took us by storm.”
Hughes added that Turell was also the only player they came across in the G League who played on a Division III team in college, two tiers down from the top DI programs.
“We were interested to see how both his faith and game would translate to the professional level,” Hughes said.
The next G League season does not begin until November, but Turell is still listed on the roster of the Motor City Cruise. He told JTA via email that he is focused on playing for the Cruise and improving his game.
“It was an honor to be selected to represent the G League along with great players like Scoot [Henderson], Gabe [York], Denzel [Valentine] and Mason [Jones],” Turell added.