Doug Gottlieb has always been in the spotlight. From having a father who was a world class college basketball coach, to being a top notch point guard for Notre Dame and then Oklahoma State, from being an analyst on ESPN to being a tale show host on CBS Sports Radio to his current position at FOX Sports Radio, the former point guard has seen it all. As coach of my the USA Maccabiah Gold Medal winning Basketball Team, Gottlieb went a perfect 6-0 to capture the top spot in first head coaching job. The Sports Rabbi had a chance to sit down for an intimate conversation with this dynamic individual and what you’ll find out about Doug will not only surprise but also inspire.
“My dad was born in the Bronx and was raised in Conservative Temple while my mom was brought up in Bridgeport, CT where her father starts the first Temple and was raised as a Reform Jew. They eventually moved out to Hewlett, Long Island where we identified ourselves as Jewish with sports being such a big part of our lives,” Gottlieb began.
“Coming to Israel in 1997 was an experience of a lifetime. After growing up in Orange County where there were few Jews to arriving in Israel, I felt that I was finally the rule and not the exception. It was a powerful feeling. I can’t say that I felt that I was at home but I felt that it satisfied my system more so than ever. Combine that with the connection to my teammates as this was my first time I had Jewish teammates, it was amazing. My dad had always told me that you just couldn’t explain the connection that Jews automatically have to one another. I have the exact same feeling with this Maccabiah team. They are like little brothers; it’s that level of comfort.”
Gottlieb continued on discussing what brought him to Israel this time around, “The first reason that I came here was for basketball. There is part of my brain that knows I can and that I want to coach and this gives me a chance to do what I do at home but here in Israel. Second, I love being around young athletes. I can relate to where they are mentally and emotionally and I think that I can help them with that. Third, I loved my experience twenty years ago and I want that experience for them. I think that I can make that experience better for them that anyone else because I lived it.”
Having been surrounded by the game throughout his entire life, Gottlieb was the perfect man for the job, “Basketball is kind of our family business, my dad was a coach for 50 years and my brother has been a basketball coach since he got out of college.
Personally, if I haven’t played it, I’ve covered it. I played in Israel, Russia, France and I began my broadcasting career while I was playing in the United States. I believe that I offer a resource to these guys as they grew up watching me on TV. There is just a way in which basketball people talk about basketball. There is also a way I portrayed myself on television where I was going to say what I wanted to say whether people like it or not.”
“I started broadcasting nationally across America in 2002, so if you think about it, by the time these players started watching basketball on TV, I had been a part of it. They feel like they know me, the sport and that I’m being honest. I played for lots of coaches and I felt that they really knew what they were doing. From Eddie Sutton to John MacCleod and to my dad, I’ve played for a ridiculous list of coaches. Having a mind that’s able to process what I learned, plus having the on court experience and covering the game for the past 15 years and all of these coaches like Scott Brooks and Brad Stevens, I think I can offer these kids a real understanding of the NBA and college game and how basketball has evolved and developed over the past 5 years.”
Gottlieb travelled back in time to when he was playing on the Israeli hardwood, “I came to Israel after having played in the 2001 Maccabiah and following 9/11. I was offered a contract to play in Raanana and the money was a little low. I also found out about the mentality here in Israel is that you have to prove yourself and develop before you can kind of have your own team. I had trouble with that mentality because everywhere I had been I wanted to start but my wife loved living here. We loved the weather as well as living in Raanana and I liked Coach Sharon Druker’s practices though sometimes I disagreed with his game strategies. I loved the idea of me being a Zionist and learning about the Israeli game and playing here as a Jew though I don’t think I lived up to my potential of playing here, however, I would say I had a generally good experience.”
One of Gottlieb’s missions is to make sure that his Maccabiah players have the opportunity to potentially flourish in the Holy Land, “That is my goal in this whole thing. When my dad was a coach his number one goal was getting a scholarship for every kid and I have the same mentality here where I want every kid to play in Israel. They can all play at some level in here. They have the rest of their lives to worry about jobs. Daniel Janel can play here and he is built like a wall while Travis Warech has already played in Germany and is a great player with incredible leadership and basketball IQ. There are several first division players such as Spencer Weisz, Sam Singer and when Jeremy Lieberman finishes up college in two years. He has a gear that not many Jewish players have in athleticism.”
In fact, Warech signed with Coach Brad Greenberg’s Maccabi Ashdod, Weisz with Hapoel Gilboa/Galil and Singer with Bnei Herzliya all of which are first division teams while assistant coach Jake Rauchbach will be working at Nes Ziona. There are even more players who can find a home in the Israeli basketball leagues, “I think Jordan Cohen who is only 19 years old will be a first division player when he finishes school while I also know that Jimmy McDonnell can be a player off the bench in the first league here. He’s a 6’11 Jewish guy who can shoot, has shown real toughness here and has held his own. Jojo Fallas (signed with Nes Ziona) can play here and he started at Cornell while Alec Kobre (signed with Maccabi Raanana) is a ridiculous shooter. Some of these kids have great jobs lined up for them and if they want to sacrifice working on Wall Street and making big money, they should come here and experience all of what Israel has to offer.”
Obviously to Gottlieb, the connection to Israel is eternal and one that he wants each and everyone to feel, “It’s also amazing to see the juxtaposition of Jerusalem vs Tel Aviv vs Haifa, it’s like having four or five different countries within one and they should all experience it. When you watch TV in America, you can tell who has been to Israel and who hasn’t. People don’t really understand the entire situation and that is something we need to imbue I these guys so that they can use their resources or money they make after they succeed to donate or get involved in the Zionist movement. It’s part of who we all are. It’s my personal goal to get every one of them placed here at some level, for them to buy into the culture and give them the ability to be able to see what it is like to be a Jew, to live in Israel, play professionally and to be the real thing”.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is one that the whole world has an opinion about for the good and the not so good Gottlieb explained, “Sometimes it’s really hard to understand and wrap your head around what happens in the rest of the world when you are in America. It’s also the same reason why people don’t really understand the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, because if you haven’t experienced it then it’s very easy to say why don’t you just have two countries, one state here and the other there. But it’s not that simple.”
As a proud and publicly identified Jew, Gottlieb is on Fox Sports Radio daily and isn’t shy to let everyone know where he has been and what his thoughts are about being Jewish. Does he take it for granted? “I identify with the Zionist movement and I love the fact that Jewish kids could say, I could be him (Gottlieb). I probably do take for granted all that America allows me to do and that is why Maccabi USA is doing such a great job. When you visit Yad Vashem you remember wait, people were killed because they were Jewish? Then you remember people don’t like us for no reason other than our religion. It’s the same thing about racism for me because I grew up playing basketball and I grew up in Southern California. I have a hard time relating to people that are racist because it wasn’t something I grew up around, or that was allowed in my house and it wasn’t something that was pervading the society that I lived in as a player or as a person. To be totally candid, I do totally take for granted the fact I can talk about the Maccabiah Games as a Jew on my National Radio Program freely with no repercussions.”
As time begins to ebb away we do some quick hits:
Broadcasting or Coaching?
“Nothing like the energy of being in a game. Coaching”
Falafel or Shawarma?
“Shawarma. The most underrated part is the pita. Bad pita it’s a bad shawarma.”
Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?
“I am going to say the historical city of Jerusalem. I would just love to go and visit all these little villages here. The Mediterranean is pretty amazing. I grew up by a beach and I love it, but I feel like I’m on a different planet when I’m in Jerusalem. All the different cultures, religions, neighborhoods and how everything kind of looks the same.”
Dead Sea or Masada?
Eilat or Haifa?
“Never been to Eilat, but I heard Haifa can be topped by Eilat, however, Haifa feels like my kind of thing. Haifa still gets you the breeze, views and all but you don’t have the constant needs for the clubs and the bars like in Tel Aviv. Haifa is more my thing.”
Eastern Time Zone of USA, or the Israel Time Zone ?
“I like Eastern Time Zone more than Pacific because then a lot of sports happen when the kids are asleep. The Israeli time gets me all screwed up, because my kids are in the Eastern, my job is in the Pacific and I’m in Israel. So I don’t know where I am or what time it is, I just know that I need to be somewhere in 20 minutes.”