YouTube video spotlights NBA player’s journey to Judaism

Former NBA player Chris Smith opens up about feeling ‘unstoppable’ wearing tzitit, the knotted ritual fringes worn by observant Jews.  

By Joseph Wolkin, World Israel News

Former NBA player Chris Smith loves the challah. Smith is sharing his journey to Judaism in a new video uploaded last week on YouTube.

Inspired by former NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire and sports agent Daniel Hazan, Smith converted to Judaism last year. Diving into his Jewish faith, he made Aliyah, playing for a number of teams in Israeli basketball conferences Liga Leumit and Ligat HaAl.

“I always wondered, ‘who are these people with black hats?” Smith said, talking about the orthodox Jews he saw in his hometown of Lakewood, New Jersey.

The video, created by a group called “Jew in the City,” shows Smith’s rise to the NBA and his conversion to Judaism. He’s the brother of Cleveland Cavaliers star J.R. Smith, and he’s quite different from his older sibling.

“He was bringing books and readings into the locker room,” Smith said of Stoudemire, who was his teammate with the New York Knicks. “He was wearing tzitit and I’m like, ‘Why are you wearing this?’”

Stoudemire plays for Hapoel Jerusalem. He owns a large portion of the team and made his return to the court this year after retiring in 2017.

Thanks to Stoudemire’s commitment to Judaism, Smith was introduced to a whole new world.

“When I put it on and I wear it, I just feel unstoppable,” Smith said about wearing tzitzit.

Besides Stoudemire, Smith was also inspired by Hazan, an Orthodox Jew who is the youngest agent to ever sign a player in the NBA, doing so at the age of 20. The two hit it off at a Knicks party, and the rest as they say is history.

“I’m hanging out with Dan, I’m going to all these dinners,” Smith said, “I’m meeting all these people, I’m actually learning what’s really going on, and then it just hit me: Ok, this is what I want to do.”

The two study Torah “rigorously,” Hazan said. Even when Hazan introduced Smith to the not-so-exciting parts of Judaism, Smith was still receptive.

“I wanted to become Jewish for certain reasons that [are] bigger than basketball, bigger than family, bigger than everything,” Smith said. “When I was coming out of college, going to the NBA was my all-time goal in life, and Judaism kind of brought me back on that high.

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“Like Dan always says, go back to your foundation and refocus. And Judaism has played a big role in that.”