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Ryan Turell makes basketball history in pro debut: The first Orthodox Jewish player on the court

Orthodox Jewish basketball fans tasted glory Monday night when Ryan Turell, the 6-foot-7 shomer Shabbat forward from Valley Village, California, made his professional debut with the Detroit Pistons’ minor-league team. 

Turell, who wore a blue yarmulke emblazoned with the franchise’s logo, entered to an ovation for the final 3:40 of the home game, which his team, the Motor City Cruise, was then losing by 25. But Turell, who, if he graduates from the minor leagues will be the first Orthodox Jew in the NBA, still managed to showcase his hustle, personality and ability to create his own shot — even if the only one he took last night missed.

Turell’s standout moment came with less than 3 minutes left to play and the Cruise on defense, when one of his teammates poked the ball loose. Turell dove on the floor to recover it, then hoisted it backward over his head toward a sprinting teammate, who made an easy dunk off the pass. But perhaps the most telling moment in Turell’s debut came during a break in play after he took to the court, when the game announcer reflected on what his debut meant.

“For everybody here, for every young man, young woman of that faith, seeing Ryan perform out on the court, they’re thinking, ‘If he can do it, why the heck can’t I?’” the announcer said. “This is a really inspiring thing for a lot of people here.”

Turell declared for the NBA draft after leading the country in collegiate scoring at Yeshiva University, an Orthodox Jewish university that attracted national attention in 2021 after its Division III basketball team won 50 games in a row. He went unselected by the NBA in June, but in October the Cruise picked him 27th overall in the NBA G League draft.

Turell has said that his new employer has generously accommodated his religious observance. The Cruise stayed at a hotel a short walk from the site of their Friday night opener in Cleveland, and because Turell would be staying behind the next day when the team returned to Detroit, provided him with four kosher meals and a hot plate — in addition to arranging a separate ride home.

Turell told ESPN in March that if he was drafted by an NBA league he would play on the Sabbath, but would walk to games and practices scheduled for Shabbat and otherwise continue to observe the laws of the Jewish day of rest.

“Being the first Orthodox Jew in the NBA would mean the world to me, and a dream come true, God willing,” he said. “But, just as importantly, it would mean the world to others that never saw this as a possibility.”

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