If you watched the UEFA Champions League final a few weeks back, you might have heard the word “yid” bandied about in the stands of Madrid’s Metropolitano Stadium. The expression has long been associated with English soccer club Tottenham Hotspur, which contested the final in a losing cause against English rival Liverpool.
Initially it was invoked as a slur aimed at the side’s supporters (the Spurs were originally based in a Jewish neighbourhood of London, and retain a significant Jewish fan base to this day), though Tottenham fans have attempted to rehabilitate the word in recent decades, referring to themselves as “yids” or “yid army.” Now, however, club officials are said to be studying ways to clamp down on usage of, as a team spokesperson termed it, “the Y-word.” For better or worse, next season, you might not hear “yid” wafting through Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
But as one sports franchise reconsiders its Jewish connections, another was recently waving the flag proudly. If you saw the Toronto Raptors clinch the National Basketball Association championship last week (and let’s be honest: what else could you have possibly been doing?), you might have heard a vaguely familiar Hebrew word during the presentation of the Larry O’Brien trophy: “Hagbah!” Yes, that was Raptors’ co-owner Larry Tanenbaum’s expression, referring to the raising of the Torah at the end of communal readings (otherwise known as, “when everyone stands up and points at the Torah”), as he hoisted basketball’s ultimate prize.
The Shabbat before the Raptors’ triumph, my family was eating lunch at the home of a rabbi. Naturally, the conversation turned to the NBA Finals. (There had been a guest speaker in shul that day, and the rabbi told me he had briefly considered sidling up behind him, mid-speech, to offer a little neck massage, a la the friendly rubdown Drake gave Raptors coach Nick Nurse during a tense moment on the sidelines.)
The rabbi noted that there was an element of hashgacha pratit, Divine providence, in the Raptors’ season-long odyssey. Every move the team made turned out to be right – what are the chances of that happening?
You might scoff at the idea, but many of the players on the court certainly wouldn’t. Interviewed moments after hitting “The Shot” to clinch the second-round series against Philadelphia, Raptors hero Kawhi Leonard told sideline reporter Rosalyn Gold-Onwude “God is good. I prayed every day and ended up getting healthy, now I’m able to play basketball. You could just see what He does for you.”
(Kawhi, in case you’re listening: if you stay in Toronto, we’ll offer you a free lifetime subscription to The CJN!) Judging by all the religious iconography tattooed on the bodies of his teammates and opponents, he wasn’t the only one searching for Divine assistance on the court – not to mention in the stands, on the edges of living room couches across Canada, or among the crowds at Jurassic (or Jewrassic) Park.
Perhaps Drake, the Raptors’ biggest Jewish fan, said it best: “I can’t do this on my own,” he sings on his recent album, Scorpion, “someone watchin’ this s–t close.” Hmm. Maybe it really was God’s Plan all along.