David Kufeld
Basketball, Israel & Judaism

Is there a basketball afterlife?

Does he need chizuk or Hatzalah?
Does he need chizuk or Hatzalah?

Some musings on an unexpected chance to relive long-past glories.

It’s been at least 14 years since I played a full or half-court basketball game,  due to career-ending injuries. Before that, pick-up games against other AK’s really didn’t do it for me.

At 64, my competitive swan song was at the World Maccabiah Games Masters Basketball tournament in 2001, when in my early 40’s, and even then, my abilities were rapidly leaving the building.

So the other week, when I was asked to compete in a free throw contest at halftime of the Yeshiva University Macs game vs. Mount St. Vincent on February 11th, I was immediately intrigued. I’ll be competing against Mac great and recent grad Gabe Leifer (yes, the guy who broke my rebounding record) as part of Alumni Homecoming festivities. Do you think that includes a toga party? It was a big deal in my day.

The chance to compete again in basketball at my advanced age (albeit in a very limited aspect) was previously inconceivable, so this is a special treat. I thought my only chance to take the court again would be to make a speech or to pose for a photo. But this is a great way to do so, in principle of course.

I miss playing terribly, and the spark has never left me. If you sneak up on me when I’m waiting for an elevator (thinking I was alone), you might see me executing a Sky Hook or refining my triple-threat moves.

Foul shooting, while not my particular forte (I averaged almost 70%) seems simple enough, but the last thing I want to be is the basketball equivalent of one of those dignitaries who throw out the first pitch of the baseball season – who invariably can’t reach home plate. As you’ll see detailed on the the photo that accompanies this article – there are more than a few aches and pains that bring me back to earth when considering this challenge.

Recovering this one facet of my game is sort of like a séance, or better yet, an archeological dig…you have to carefully sift through the sand and earth before uncovering the artifact, which hopefully is still the genuine article. I suspect that the Nabataeans made off with my game (and Sports Illustrated Faces in the Crowd trophy) ages ago!

Since my heaving up some shots on my grandkids’ 7-foot basket is not a valid way of assessing the damage, I’ve started frequenting the beautiful Jerusalem YMCA gym, trying to practice there alone. The good news is that I’m not the oldest gym rat, but the bad news is that this other, even more ancient guy has been helping me retrieve some of my errant shots, since seeing me run after loose balls is not a pleasant sight.

I should be unbeatable at foul shooting, since I spent most of my youth in my driveway, shooting for endless hours, oblivious of the world around me.

So despite the well-intentioned warnings from loved ones and other interventionists, it’s going to be hard to pass this up. Who knows, it might be the start of a new career. Didn’t Red Klotz play into his 80’s with the Washington Generals? Could I use one of those gramma scooters to make it up and down the floor?

As it happens, to appear in a New York event takes a little fancy footwork, due to my Israeli residency and need to be in-country for a sufficient time to avoid losing my Israeli passport, as a new-ish Oleh. And I need a semi-elective surgical procedure done one of these days, so it all has to fit somehow. Luckily, we have a NYC visit coming up so it should work out – but this is all crazy stuff for a supposedly mature and responsible adult to prioritize.

In any event, let’s talk strategy. While this can be lots of fun, I need to plan to win somehow – perhaps some serious “psyops” are needed. Should I make for an early Purim by dressing as “Uncle Drew” ( )?

My kids remind me that I don’t need much makeup to pull that off, and then again Kyrie is toxic these days. And how about an intro song like “Enter Sandman” when I take the court? Would Mariano mind?

I think I may have to remind Gabe that I’m certainly old enough to be his father, or at least his crazy great uncle Dave, so he must act respectfully and maybe spot me a basket or two?

It’s probably better for my legacy to not play, since it has been said that “It’s better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Considering that very few people actually saw me play during my prime, this idea is especially risky.

Is this a mistake? Am I making too much out of it? What if I miss every shot – will my grandchildren still get shidduchim? Or should I grab for that gusto with both hands? Let me know in the comments.

About the Author
Always tall for his age, Dave Kufeld made good use of his stature as an undergrad at Yeshiva College, achieving All American status in Men’s Basketball and leading the nation in rebounding – and subsequently becoming the first known Orthodox Jew to be drafted by an American pro team when he was selected by the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers in 1980 (ironically, he was too short and too observant to fill Bill Walton’s shoes). After completing his professional stint in Israel’s first division (at Maccabi Ramat Gan) he embarked upon a still ongoing career in advertising, marketing, and public relations, with a concentration in law firm and litigation marketing. In 2019, he and his wife Suri made Aliya and reside in Jerusalem, just a wind sprint away from their children and grandchildren.
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