JEWISH ROOTS AND THE QUEST FOR AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP

 

 

Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals was, by all accounts, one tough game. After the Heat managed a 103-100 overtime win after being down 5 with under 30 seconds to go, LeBron James called it “by far the best game I've ever been a part of.”

 

In the San Antonio locker room, third year Spurs member Tiago Splitter agreed.

 

“That was one of the toughest games I ever played.” Splitter, who left his native Brazil at age 15 to play basketball for Tau Ceramica (now Caja Laboral) in the northern Spanish city of Vitoria, is himself no stranger to tough championship games, having led his team to numerous Spanish League and Spanish Cup Championships as well as the 2006-07 Euroleague Championship, earning MVP honors in 2006, 2007 and 2010, the year he left Europe for the NBA.

 

(Splitter had been drafted by the Spurs with the 27th pick in the 2007 NBA draft, but contractual obligations and buy-out costs prevented him from joining the Spurs until the 2010-11 season.)

 

With all the excitement of an NBA Championship so close the Spurs could practically taste it, Splitter also discussed a matter of personal interest to himself and his family … the likelihood of the family’s Jewish roots in Europe.

 

“My father’s great-grandfather, Johann Splitter, left Prussia for Brazil in the mid-1800s. It is our understanding that he had Jewish roots, but we don’t have any documentation to that effect. This is something my dad has been trying to uncover for the past 30 years. We have met other Splitters and from what we have learned we think there is something to this. Sometimes I have gone online but it has been hard to find much information. My dad is the main one researching this and he is planning to do some traveling next summer to see what he can find out.” Previously, Splitter’s father, Cassio, traveled to Poland with Regina Splitter, who he had found through the historical archives in Rio de Janeiro, and learned that some of their family members had perished in the Holocaust.

 

Splitter’s quest to uncover his family’s Jewish roots went a bit more public some years ago when his Tau Vitoria team traveled to Israel play Maccabi Tel Aviv, and his father asked him to use the visit to find out more about the family’s possibly Jewish origins.

 

Splitter showed a sportswriter in Tel Aviv some of the names his family had uncovered. “Everyone needs to know where they come from,” Splitter told sportswriter Aaron Weisberg back in 2007, “I think that fleeing Europe caused the detachment from Judaism. I respect Judaism and feel very close to it, even though I am Christian.”

 

Splitter’s family lives in the southern Brazilian city of Blumenau where many families of German and Italian origin settled. “Many of my friends there are Jews,” he said. I will not give up my search for my family’s history until I know more. I see it as my life’s work.”

 

In the meantime, Splitter continues to make a name for himself as a valuable member of the Spurs, and a possible replacement for the team rock, Tim Duncan. “He is at the end of his career, but he is still learning every day. I admire the passion that he has for this game – even though he doesn’t seem to show it! He has so much patience on the court – he never gets frustrated. He is a great guy and a great competitor.”

 

“Everybody wants to play in the NBA,” the 28-year-old Splitter continued. “It’s the best league in the world and everybody wants to try to compete here and prove themselves. Ever since I was young, like 6 or 7, I grew up watching the NBA. It was always a dream for me to play here in the league and compete with all these guys.”


With the combination of a multinational squad and a longtime coach who champions a certain style of play, Splitter noted, “I think that the Spurs have more of a European style of play than any other team in this league – at least we try to play that way every night. In Europe we don’t have the athleticism to play one-one-one or isolation basketball every time, so you have to find the way to get open baskets without playing one-on-one. So that comes naturally in FIBA basketball as what you have to do to win games.
 

When you play like a team it’s hard to guard… you don’t only have one or two guys who are going to score…the other team doesn’t know who is going to score next. That is the basketball we (Spurs) try to do every night. Some games it isn’t possible. Some games we don’t make shots – or whatever. But for sure you have got to play as a team on defense and offense.”

 

For his part, Splitter shot a mere 55.9% from the charity stripe in his rookie year. This season his FT% was a respectable 73%, and nearly 79% for the entire playoff period. How did he manage this improvement? “Shoot a lot – shoot a lot – I spent all summer shooting – 1000 shots per day, just working on it.”

 

The long-time member of the Brazilian national team, who has played in several Olympics and World Basketball Championships, is clearly driven to succeed, whether on the basketball court or in the search for his Jewish roots.