Category Archives: Blog

Enjoying the Home Stretch

My last blog detailed the decade-long metamorphosis during which Alley-Oop to Aliyah: African American Hoopsters in the Holy Land grew from an idea into a book on the verge of its release. I posted that blog exactly 100 days before the book’s publication date, and while I was excited about being so close to the culmination of the process, I also felt some apprehension. Over the past decade, I’ve become accustomed to having perpetual book-related tasks on my “To Do” list – a player to interview, an event to research, a concept to explore (and, if we’re being honest here, 190-plus book agents by whom to be rebuffed!). I loved that every day brought an opportunity to improve the book in some way, and with my final manuscript submitted I wondered, was my work on this book actually “finished”? Would the next 100 days simply be an exercise in watching the game clock wind down, culminating in a climactic book release, only to be followed by a sudden vacuum? What I didn’t know at that point was that while the book may have been completed, my work was hardly done!

The biggest difference between the last few months and the 10 years prior is the introduction of a whole new group of people into my book publishing experience – readers who aren’t members of my immediate family! Once I completed my manuscript my main responsibilities were to secure “blurbs” about the book, short reviews from subject matter experts, and to promote the book and encourage the media to cover it. So, after a decade of having the manuscript carefully scrutinized exclusively by my parents and brother, followed by rounds of edits from my own editors and my amazing publishing company (Skyhorse Publishing), this summer marked the first time Alley-Oop to Aliyah saw a broader light of day. While I was definitely a bit nervous about the feedback I would receive, it was also exciting to finally be able to give this incredible story its rightful broader exposure.

I was determined to aim high with my blurb requests, and didn’t concern myself with the concept of what was “realistic”. That’s why, in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon this summer, I uncorked a literary equivalent of a full-court heave, sending a “cold call” email to Alan Dershowitz. Before he was a world-renowned lawyer, Harvard law professor, and author of New York Times Bestseller “The Case for Israel”, Dershowitz was a high school basketball player. I figured that if basketball and Israel are both close to his heart, I had at least an above-zero probability of a positive reply. Less than three hours later, I was rendered speechless after checking my email to find that Professor Dershowitz replied and asked for a copy of the manuscript. A few weeks later he emailed me a blurb, which I’m thrilled was selected by Skyhorse to appear prominently on the front cover of the book. Professor Dershowitz’s comments can be found on the Reviews page of this site.

In addition to securing blurbs, I’ve also been reaching out to traditional print journalists, bloggers, podcasters, Youtube aficionados, and more – anyone and everyone whose audience may be interested in learning about the extraordinary cohort of African American basketball players who’ve called Israel home. After interviewing more than 40 sources during my research and writing process, it’s been exhilarating lately to be on the other side of the microphone, answering questions about my book instead of asking questions for it. Many of those interviews will be released in the weeks ahead, and you can follow coverage of the book and my speaking engagements on the Appearances page of this site.

Stay tuned for my next blog, in which I’ll detail the lead-up to the release of Alley-Oop to Aliyah and introduce you to one of the players featured in the book, who’ll be traversing the Atlantic Ocean to help me promote it!

Alley-Oop to Aliyah: The Concept

The concept for Alley-Oop to Aliyah: African American Hoopsters in the Holy Land originated in the most unlikely of places – an assisted living complex for seniors in a religious neighborhood of Jerusalem. I was there with my older brother in May 2007 visiting my grandparents, who had invited some of their friends over to drink coffee, eat dessert, and swap stories about their respective grandkids. The guests (all well into their 80s, and all but my late grandfather, female) displayed tepid interest in my brother’s medical practice and my legal and journalistic efforts, but the tone of the gathering took a distinct and fortuitous upturn when my grandmother mentioned where my brother and I were from – Toronto.

“Ohhh, Toronto – Anthony Parker!” the octogenarian ladies exclaimed. Parker, an African American basketball player from Illinois, had chosen to sign with the Toronto Raptors following five successful years playing in Israel, and they were beyond excited that we were from his new adopted hometown. “Eizeh motek!” they exclaimed in Hebrew (meaning, “What a sweetie!”) “Be’emet mentsch!” (Hebrew and Yiddish for, “Truly an honorable man!”)

I was blown away by the reaction. I had known that Maccabi Tel Aviv, Parker’s former team, was a European powerhouse, and I was aware that Israel had its own domestic professional league. I also knew that, similar to other international basketball leagues, some of the players in Israel were African American expats. But I had no sense of the hold the game had on the State of Israel, or the admiration and fondness its citizens felt for its African American players. Those elderly women loved Anthony Parker like he was their own grandson, and by the time they left my grandparents’ apartment, my curiosity – about basketball in Israel, generally, and the experience and impact of African American players there, specifically — was piqued.

I boarded my flight home with printouts of as many Israeli basketball articles as a cursory Google search would yield and began what would ultimately become a 10-year research and writing process, culminating in Alley-Oop to Aliyah: African American Hoopsters in the Holy Land. Intrigued by what I’d read and eager to learn more, I reached out to basketball contacts I’d developed in the United States and Canada, and cold-called numerous others. In all, I conducted interviews with more than 40 people, some of whom I spoke to many times over the years. These players agreed to be interviewed by a stranger they knew nothing about, for a project whose outcome was uncertain. They were open and honest, letting me into their lives and entrusting me with their stories — it is a responsibility I have taken extremely seriously. Although I wrote this book, the stories on which it is based are very much theirs – their experiences, their perspectives, their unique and fascinating phenomenon.

Alley-Oop to Aliyah has come a long way since that afternoon in Jerusalem, and I’m excited to see where it goes in the future. I will be posting pictures and videos that I’m confident you will enjoy. I’ll also be updating this blog frequently, giving you a sense of what went into the researching and writing of the book, updating you on appearances I’ll be making, and sharing some stories that didn’t make it into the final manuscript.

Thank you for visiting the site, and I hope you find the content interesting!

Trust the Process

After telling people about my new book, Alley-Oop to Aliyah: African American Hoopsters in the Holy Land, I’m often posed two questions, usually in the same order: How did I come up with the idea? And, how long did the process take? I answered the first question in my opening blog post, and today I’ll expand on the answer to the second.

I first became intrigued by the topic of African American basketball players in Israel in May 2007, while visiting my grandparents in Jerusalem. On my return to Toronto, I read everything I could about basketball in Israel, and the experiences of African American players there specifically. The more I read, the more I wanted to know, and I began seeking out first-person accounts. As luck would have it, the 2007-2008 Toronto Raptors featured not one but two African American players who had done stints in Israel – Anthony Parker and Maceo Baston – and their glowing words about their Israeli experiences stoked my interest even further. From there, I began casting a wider net, reaching out to agents to connect me with their Israeli league clients, going to events where attendees might have connections to Israeli basketball, and even cold-calling players and former players with Facebook messages requesting phone interviews.

The process of researching the topic and interviewing players was a lengthy one. I was a full-time lawyer at a corporate firm in Toronto, so I arranged phone interviews around my work schedule, and I also made sure to meet with interview subjects face-to-face on my yearly trips to Israel to visit my family there. All the while I was reviewing my research and interview notes for common themes, experiences and challenges, and sketching an outline for the structure of the book. Some chapter topics were obvious from the start, and others developed as I got to know the players and their circumstances better over the years. Eventually, outline sketches turned into proper writing, and I began working on draft chapters in the spring of 2011, fully four years after beginning the research process!

Having spent so much time and thought on my research, interviews, and the chapter outline, the writing of the manuscript itself ended up being one of the fastest aspects of the project. By January 2012 I had a draft I was comfortable with, and I was excited to keep up the momentum and move the project ahead. It was at that point that I started to reach out to literary agents, and to truly understand the amount of patience I would need to see the project through to completion. I started reaching out to literary agents in January 2012. What followed, to my surprise and a bit of dismay, was 23 months of rejections or non-replies – many agents found the topic interesting, fascinating even, but each had significant doubts about the audience for a book like mine. Basketball books generally don’t sell particularly well, and Alley-Oop to Aliyah was unlike any books on the market. In all, I approached 198 literary agents to ultimately receive four offers of representation, and I eventually signed with Sam Fleishman of Literary Artists Representatives in November 2013.

With Sam aboard to represent me, we then worked on honing my book proposal before he began reaching out to publishing companies in January 2014. I would again need to exhibit some patience, as it took until November 2016 (almost another three years) until Sam found Skyhorse Publishing, a team that prides itself on working with an “eclectic and maverick” list of titles. After years of hearing that the lack of a successful historical precedent for this project was a drawback, Sam found a company that actively sought out unique topics and focused on taking on books that most publishers shy away from. Needless to say, I was thrilled to sign with Skyhorse, and I couldn’t imagine a better fit for Alley-Oop to Aliyah.

This blog is being posted more than 10 years after I started working on this project, and only a few months before Alley-Oop to Aliyah finally hits bookstores. Suffice it to say this has been a long journey, yet I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Over the years I have gotten to know my interview subjects better and better, and I’ve become more confident in the broader significance of this topic. I’ve also been fortunate enough to find both a literary agent and publishing company who share that confidence, and my vision for this book. It’s been a decade well spent, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Alley-Oop to Aliyah.