There have been a lot of interesting NBA storylines this summer. LeBron taking his talents to South Beach and it's super squad. Lakers fans pretending everything is going to be OK. No one wanting T Mac while Darko signed for $20 million. And Lorenzen Wright being gunned down in the city where he became a star.
But the most intriguing story, especially when you consider the scant coverage it's received, is that the New York Knicks $100-million free agent pick up has suddenly discovered his "Hebrew roots."
From Haaretz, the liberal Israeli daily:
U.S. basketball star Amar'e Stoudemire is apparently on his way to Israel for a voyage of discovery after learning he has Jewish roots.
"On the flight to Israel. This is going to be a great trip," announced the power forward, who plays in the NBA for the New York Knicks, via the micro-blogging site Twitter.
According to an Army Radio report, Stoudemire plans to spend time in Israel learning Hebrew, having recently learned he has a Jewish mother.
"The holy land. Learn about it," he wrote, adding "ze ha'halom sheli" -- Hebrew for "this is my dream."
Most stories that have mentioned Stoudemire, whose Twitter name "amareisreal" had previously suggested to me that Stoudemire had a connection to the Holy Land but just wasn't a great speller, have been a painful reminder that few reporters take religion seriously. Or, even if they do, they can't be troubled enough to actually explore religion in a story that is 100 percent about religion.
A big problem with these stories is that they rely heavily, if not entirely, on what Stoudemire has been posting on Twitter. I understand there is an issue of access, but this phenomenon is far too common even with reporters who have plenty of access to athletes or entertainers. Interviews have been replaced with trading txt messages and quoting tweets.
Obviously, these comments can be revealing, but they hardly leave reporters room to do what they should do best: keep asking questions in the pursuit of truth and clarity.
In this vain, an Associated Press reporter in Jerusalem caught up with Stoudemire yesterday and filed a much-improved dispatch over the AP's early wire brief. The reporter asked a few good questions and put into context what it would mean for New York to have a Jew dominating the painted area.
The AP explains why Stoudemire thinks he has "Hebrew roots" through his mother:
"She studied the Scriptures and history and she believes she is a Hebrew," he told The Associated Press Friday in Jerusalem. "I grew up in a very spiritual home. It's not about religion, it's about spirituality for me."
Stoudemire said he was "soaking up the culture" with his girlfriend and a few other friends from home.
This story does better than others, but still leaves more questions than it answers. Like:
Stoudemire mentions "Hebrew roots" -- is he talking about the Black Hebrew Israelites, who aren't exactly accepted by the Orthodox or non-Orthodox Jews?
How much room in Judaism is there for spirituality as opposed to religion?
And why did Stoudemire, or at least his mother, only learn now that she may be Jewish?
What this story doesn't mention is what this God Blog commenter did:
Little known halakhic exception to needing a bunch of Israeli rabbis checking your mom’s ketubah: be famous! You can be counted Jewish just by hanging out near a synagogue! But everyone else: beware the most minute failure of observance or your conversion is revoked!
If Stoudemire turns out to be that rare Jew who is 7-feet-tall, African American and, this is a common one, wears glasses, it would be a big moment for the NBA -- increasing the Tribe by 50 percent. (The league currently has only two MOTS: Omri Casspi of the Kings and Jordan Farmar, who moved this summer from LA to NY. Stoudemire would be the first Jewish big man to be a super star in New York since Dolph Schayes had a Hall of Fame career for the Syracuse Nationals.
I'd still think that STAT is overrated.