The Jewish Sport Report: How this pro basketball player is using sports to inspire Israeli kids


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(JTA) — Hello! I don’t know about you, but I’m catching spring fever. Spring Training games have begun, temperatures are on the rise and March Madness is just around the corner.

If you’re not feeling it, perhaps this will help: here’s Max Fried pitching to his Atlanta Braves teammate Ronald Acuña Jr., the reigning unanimous National League MVP.

Basketball as an escape from the stresses of war

Kids playing basketball

Jared Armstrong, center, is running free basketball clinics for children in Ashkelon, Israel. (Courtesy of Armstrong)

Jared Armstrong’s professional basketball team, Elitzur Ashkelon, played its final preseason game on Oct. 6. The regular season, as you might imagine, did not proceed as planned.

Armstrong, who made national headlines in 2022 for his public fight to obtain Israeli citizenship, returned to the United States, where he’s been running basketball clinics as part of his initiative to use the sport as a vehicle to promote Black-Jewish relations.

Armstrong returned to Israel when the Culture and Sport Ministry resumed the season, and Ashkelon played its first game on Dec. 1. Once back in Israel, Armstrong decided to bring his free basketball clinic program with him.

“I felt people weren’t really focusing on helping kids and inspiring kids,” Armstrong told me. “Mostly all the kids play basketball. It was a way that I can help them escape from the world, from what’s going on.”

He hopes to continue his work using basketball to combat hate, while providing Israeli kids with a few hours of light at a dark time. His next clinic is Monday — read more about Armstrong’s work here.

Halftime report

COACH LAVARNWAY. Longtime Team Israel veteran Ryan Lavarnway has stayed busy since retiring from the MLB last year. He suited up for Israel in the 2023 European Championship, wrote a kid’s book, worked as a TV analyst for the Colorado Rockies and became a sought-after speaker at Jewish conferences around the country. Now the 2013 World Series champion is adding a new job to his resume: coach. Lavarnway is joining the Chicago Cubs organization as a roving catcher instructor.

DON’T BET ON IT. When Mark Cuban sold the Dallas Mavericks to Jewish casino magnate Miriam Adelson last year, some fans and analysts took the move as a sign that the NBA would lean even more into the growing world of sports betting. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says not so fast. Silver told reporters that the new ownership group’s gambling business would not impact the league. Silver also reflected on the “incredible impact” he said Cuban has had on basketball.

GOOD COMPANY. Yes, it’s been a slow offseason for baseball news, but MLB Network concluded its rollout of its top 100 players heading into 2024, which came after its positional rankings. Two Jewish players made the list: Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman ranked 44th, while Atlanta Braves pitcher Max Fried came in at 48th. Both players had ranked even higher in 2023 — Bregman at 24th and Fried at (a very Jewish) 36th. Bregman and Fried are both entering the final year of their contracts, so expect each of them to have some extra motivation this season.

Jews in sports to watch this weekend (all times ET)


Deni Avdija looks to continue his career year as the Washington Wizards take on the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight at 8 p.m. and host the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday at 6 p.m. Meanwhile, here in Los Angeles, I’ll be in attendance Sunday night at 9:30 p.m. as Domantas Sabonis, who is converting to Judaism, and his Sacramento Kings face the Clippers.


Edmonton Oilers winger Zach Hyman has had three goals and two assists in his last five games. The Oilers host the Minnesota Wild tonight at 9 p.m. and the Calgary Flames Saturday at 10 p.m. Adam Fox and the first-place New York Rangers play the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday at 3 p.m. and the Columbus Blue Jackets Sunday at 6 p.m. In the PWHL, Samantha Cogan and Toronto host Abbey Levy and the New York squad tonight at 7 p.m. Aerin Frankel, Kaleigh Fratkin and the Boston team face Minnesota Sunday at 4 p.m.


Max Homa is participating in the ninth installment of the live golf event “The Match” Monday at 6:30 p.m. on TNT. The tournament features four golfers, including (for the first time) two women, and will raise money for charity. David Lipsky, meanwhile, is currently in third place at the Mexico Championship, where Ben Silverman and Max Greyserman are also competing.


Matt Turner and Nottingham Forest host Aston Villa tomorrow at 10 a.m. Israeli star Manor Solomon, who has been out since the end of September with a meniscus injury, is reportedly eyeing Tottenham’s March 10 match against Aston Villa as a potential return date. James Maddison — Solomon’s Hotspur teammate, not the fourth U.S. president — recently called Solomon “one of the sharpest players I’ve ever seen.”

Lights out and away we go!

The Formula One season begins next weekend in Bahrain, but the hype starts this weekend, as teams are conducting their preseason testing. And perhaps most importantly, Netflix’s popular documentary series “Drive to Survive” premieres its newest season today. Look out for Lance Stroll storylines, as the Jewish Aston Martin driver enjoyed his best F1 season in 2023, finishing 10th in the standings and earning points in 12 races.

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