Oct 8, 2008 — When filmmaker David Vyorst decided to make “The First Basket,” a documentary about Jews and basketball, his research led him to Yeshiva University’s legendary coach Red Sarachek. The late Sarachek, deeply loved and immensely respected by his players, was also a major figure in the development of the game.
“Red is generally overlooked in basketball history because he didn’t have winning records, but he influenced the top people in basketball,” said Jeffrey Gurock, the assistant basketball coach of the Yeshiva University Maccabees and the Libby M. Klapperman Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University.
“Some of the great, big time coaches like Lou Carneseca, Dean Smith and Bob Knight came to Yeshiva to watch his practices,” said Gurock, who served as lead historian on “The First Basket.”
The film explores how basketball served as a powerful force of acculturation for Jewish children in the United States. Most learned the still-developing game in settlement houses in the concentrated immigrant neighborhoods of New York City, and many of the great early players and coaches were Jewish.
Ozzie Schechtman, a young Jew from Brooklyn who played for the original New York Knickerbockers in 1946, even scored the first basket in the history of the Basketball Association of America, later known as the National Basketball Association (NBA). His momentous points inspired the title of Vyorst’s documentary.
Vyorst became interested in the subject of his film in the late 1990s when he was rediscovering both his Jewish roots and his love for basketball. “I heard an interview with the 1946 Knicks team and they were all Jewish,” said Vyorst. “They spoke about the early roots of basketball and it resonated with what was going on in my life.”
The film features interviews with Sarachek and shows images of his Macs teams from the 1950s and 60s. Included in one of the pictures is current Macs basketball coach Jon Halpert. The movie also points out that Red Holtzman, the great New York Knicks coach, played the game alongside Saracheck in his youth.
“Red Sarachek was one of the great basketball tacticians,” said Vyorst. “Many of the plays and techniques that the better known coaches in America use today were first taught by him. For a comprehensive history of Jews and basketball we had to include Yeshiva’s coach.”
“The First Basket” premiers in New York City on Oct. 29 at the Village East Cinema in Manhattan. Go to www.thefirstbasket.com for more information.