When Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young passes to a teammate, you do not necessarily expect a middle-aged Jewish man to drain a nicely-arced mid-range jumper from the baseline off the assist. But that’s what happened earlier this month when Adam Sandler participated in a pro run pickup game with Young and other NBA hoopers including Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon, Jordan Clarkson and the 7’4” Dallas Mavericks center Boban Marjanović.
This isn’t the first time the world has seen Sandler hoop.
Sandler was caught throwing a quick no-look pass from the top of the key to a teammate for an easy bucket in December 2019. In at least one of the pictures photographer Cassy Athena captured during the pro run in early September, Sandler appears to be dishing another no-look, corroborating his court vision. Athena also photographed him going in for a smooth left-handed layup.
The public previously got an additional glimpse of the Sandman’s handle this past May, when he rocked a pink polo and oversized basketball shorts in a five-on-five run, as Inside Edition reported.
The former SNL star turned actor previously showed his appreciation for the sport of basketball when he starred as a jeweler and gambling addict in the 2019 film, “Uncut Gems.” The film features class of 2020 Hall of Famer and 2008 NBA champion Kevin Garnett as a version of himself.
As Howard, Sandler slips in several basketball references throughout the story. He tells Lakeith Stanfield’s character, Demany, that he hopes they get to see (Rajon) Rondo, the 6’1” guard who averaged just over six and half assists during the playoffs for that Celtics team that took the title in ‘08.
“I’d love to tell him thank you for dropping all those dimes,” Howard says in the movie.
“What the fuck is it with you Jewish ****** and basketball, anyway? Huh? Obsessed,” Demany says in response to Howard’s query.
Sandler’s character retorts that a Jew scored the first two points in the NBA. “Ossie Schectman, 1946. Played for the Knicks,” Howard explains.
In the forthcoming basketball-themed film, “Hustle,” a collaboration between Sandler’s Happy Madison production company and The Springhill Company, a production venture championed by four-time NBA Finals MVP LeBron James, Sandler plays a fired scout who discovers a talented international player, played by the NBA’s own Juancho Hernangomez, a forward from Spain. Sandler, who turned 55 on September 9, celebrated his birthday this year by blowing out candles on a cake brought to him inside the Tom Gola Arena in Philadelphia while he was on set for the new Netflix movie.
Sandler isn’t the only Jewish celebrity who both hoops and appreciates the history of the sport.
Dave Burd, the hip-hop artist who co-created and stars in the FXX series “Dave,” based loosely on his life and budding rap career, invited Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabar onto his show for the second season.
“Look at these shorts. They’re so tight,” Burd, playing a semi-autobiographical version of himself, says to Abdul-Jabar in comedic fashion as he looks at the pictures of players in the six-time NBA Most Valuable Player recipient’s display case soon after they meet in the episode. “Like, aren’t things like flying and floppin’ around?”
Burd, who goes by the name Lil Dicky when he raps, wasn’t done.
“This is from the era when guys were like, you know, going around dribbling like this, you know,” he says as he leans over and pretends to dribble low. “You got [Bob] Cousy running around, and I feel like there were Jewish men in the league back then.”
In a 2019 freestyle on the Sway in the Morning radio show, the real Burd shouted out the father of the “sky hook” and all-time leader in points scored in the NBA with a verse that would resurface in the aforementioned episode.
“I’m like Kareem Abdul, Kareem Abdul-Jabar / These hooks got me scoring, see me coming from afar,” he rapped.
And he touted his own game in his 2014 single, “Lemme Freak,” in which he raps, “Girl, I’m athletic, I’ve gotten several rec league MVPs.” Viewers of the music video for the song are treated to a close-up of a trophy that shows a guy dribbling a basketball.
Around the same time, Kevin Durant – the perennial NBA All-Star whose signature shoe, the KD14, Sandler wore while hooping this month – tweeted about a different Lil Dicky track, “Russell Westbrook on a Farm,” the title of which name drops the NBA’s reigning triple-double king.
“He put good flame to that pound cake beat,” KD wrote on social media about the satirical Jewish rapper’s bars.
In addition to the parody video Burd did with the high-profile hoopers LaMelo, LiAngelo and Lonzo Ball for ESPN, he’s also been spotted draining deep three after three with a dagger reminiscent of a Damian Lillard or Steph Curry.
Fellow rapper Drake, birthed by an Ashkenazi Jewish mother whom he thanked in his Billboard Music Awards acceptance speech in 2019 when he received “Top Artist” honors, has also been recorded playing pickup basketball with fellow celebrities.
His recently released music video for the song “Way 2 Sexy” features a Kawhi Leonard cameo. The two-time NBA champion Leonard, who played high school ball at Martin Luther King High School in Riverside, California, returned to the West Coast to play for the Clippers in 2019 after winning a title with Toronto, where Drake is from.
Clearly, Jewish appreciation for the hardwood has deep roots.
The film, “The First Basket: A Jewish Basketball Documentary,” for example, recounts the history of Jews playing the game in small gyms with an emphasis on moving and weaving without the ball, crafty handles and unselfish ball movement. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Robert Whitehorn III, who recorded Sandler hooping several months ago, called the artist behind “The Chanukah Song,” one “very selfless player” who “likes to pass.”
That tradition of Jews scoring buckets has been cultivated, at least in part, by Jewish Community Center basketball leagues and programs.
The character Sandler voices in his 2002 animated comedy-drama-musical, “Eight Crazy Nights” – a 33-year-old alcoholic named Davey – was also, per the movie’s plot, a JCC junior league standout. And Sandler himself has fond memories of playing basketball as a kid.
“I got trophies. I was great when I was, like, 8, and then the older I got the worse I got,” he joked on “Inside the NBA” on TNT in 2019.
Sandler, who was born in Brooklyn, also reportedly played JCC ball as a youth.
Todd Elkins, chief health and wellness officer at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, attests to the tradition of JCC basketball and to the tight connection Jews have long had with the sport that, as Sandler and other present-day Jewish celebrities demonstrate, continues to this day.
“The longevity and ongoing popularity of JCC youth (but also adult) basketball programs and leagues can be attributed to the immense popularity of the sport over the last two to three decades,” Elkins told Alma. “From a Jewish perspective, it has deep roots from basketball being played by Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side and Jews being the first to play in the early games of professional ball. It is an important part of the JCC mission and tradition because for many years Jews weren’t permitted to play at other gymnasiums. So, JCCs became the place for Jews to gather and play pick up ball. As a major part of all JCC’s mission to welcome all people and build community, the basketball court quickly became the centerpiece and top attraction for all people of all backgrounds.”