Basketball legend Tal Brody spent a week in February visiting the Chicago-area on a trip sponsored by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Serving as a Goodwill Ambassador for Israel, Brody visited Chicago-area high schools, synagogues, and businesses, promoting basketball and Israel. During his whirlwind trip, Brody chatted with JUF News about his visit here, his basketball career, and his appreciation for the work that Federation does.
JUF News: How has your trip been so far?
Tal Brody: JNF organized a fabulous schedule in coordination with the Israeli consulate. Yesterday was a special day with Ogden International High School. There were 500 students there. I think it's very important that students that are not Jewish know about Israel. It is one of the functions that I have as a good will ambassador to talk to not only Jewish groups, but Christian, Hispanic and African American groups about what Israel really is.
Congratulations on your alma mater retiring your #12 Jersey. How does it feel and what was it like playing for University of Illinois?
It gives me the goose pimples. We were the first team that played in Assembly Hall. Our basketball team of 1963, which won the Big Ten Championship, The Holiday Festival Championship…[and] the Kentucky Invitational. All the guys that I played with on that '63 basketball team are coming back for a reunion….To be honored at half time, it's huge, a great feeling!
After the Illinois shirt hanging, I'm off to the NBA all-star weekend. It's also an honor to be one of 13 players internationally to be inducted into the hall of fame. Everything at one time is very 'wow.'
What was it like playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv?
It was a beautiful ride…to take the team from a team that never got past the first round to a team that in 1977 won the European Basketball Championship. It was a proud moment for Israel; it gave a lot of joy to Israel.
What do you think of Omri Caspi playing in the NBA?
To have Omri Caspi as the first player coming from our club Maccabi Tel Aviv, it's a great honor for our club and a great honor for Israel.
You've been described as 'Israel's first modern-day sports hero.' How has that identity shaped you as a person?
As I learned very early from my high school coach, is to keep a balanced feeling. Don't get elated too much and don't get down too much on the bad days. I take the good things from it and pass them on to youth. I built a basketball school in Herzliya for 1,000 youths. I lecture and I speak to Israeli schools about sportsmanship, about Zionism, about taking responsibility, and volunteering.
What is your favorite basketball team in the United States?
Because I played with Illinois, I became very attached with the Chicago Bulls. I have feelings for the New York Knicks and I hope Amar'e Stoudemire will finish his career and play for Israel. Because of David Stern and the NBA office, we have had a fantastic relationship with all the NBA teams. But the Chicago Bulls team I have always loved and we hope that maybe next year; they will be the team playing in Israel.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Because I am so involved with Israel and the Jewish Agency in Israel and the projects that we do, that I'd like to thank the people here who are working to support Israel. You can't overestimate the importance of the work you are doing here. I see it live in Israel, where the money goes; where the programs are supported.... People in their daily lives feel what the Federations are doing.