They Shoot, They Score and They're Jewish

Published: January 22nd 2010

In 1964, Ossie Schectman – a Jewish kid from Brooklyn – scored the first basket for the New York Knickerbockers
Pic: Zej Media
Philadelphia SPHA (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) basketball team, 1922. The acronym appears in Hebrew lettering on their uniforms.
Pic: Zej Media


On Nov. 1, 1964, Ossie Schectman – a Jewish kid from Brooklyn – scored the first basket for the New York Knickerbockers when they played against the Toronto Huskies. He didn’t know at the time that his shot would be considered the first basket in the NBA.


Few people know this fact; filmmaker David Vyorst only found out about these Jewish basketball players during a Torah class at his local community centre. He decided to make his fist feature film, The First Basket, a documentary that explores the Jewish connection to basketball.



What prompted you to make a documentary about the Jewish connection to basketball?


I was at a time in my life where I was rediscovering my Jewish heritage and also rediscovering my love of basketball. I was taking Torah classes at the DCJCC, and playing ball there as well. I heard an interview with some of the original Knicks and other players on the radio, and THEY WERE ALL JEWISH. This piqued my interest and I knew there was a story there.



What do you think led these young urban Jewish guys to the sport?    


It’s well documented in the film. It’s a fun game that can be played without a lot of space and expensive equipment. Plus, I think there’s something about the teamwork, speed and action that appeals to all kids.



How did you get Academy Award nominee Peter Riegert on board to narrate the film?


Through a friend that knows him.



Did you know much about these Jewish basketball legends before making the movie?


Not much at all. Maybe Dolph Schayes. I knew Red Holzman was Jewish. Not much more!



 How have audiences reacted to the movie at screenings?


 People really love it. It’s very uplifting to me!



 What was the filmmaking process like for this documentary?


Very long and hard. It took over a year to edit. Hard for a few reasons: firstly, it’s my first film. Then, it’s a subject that mainly happened in the past, so the visual storytelling had to be accomplished through archival images and footage, and much of it was hard to find. Thirdly, the focus of the narrative is on the subject and a few themes -- not a specific person, but many people over nearly a century. So constructing a cogent narrative and then filling that in visually was very challenging!



Are you working on any other films?


I’m working on a film about interfaith peacemakers and friends across the divide in the Middle East. It is currently complete in its incarnation as three 20-minute videos, and over the next half year it will be put together as a doc film.


I’m also starting a new doc project about rock n’ roll, Elvis, religion and American culture!



To learn more about Vyorst’s films, visit

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