If basketball were what defined Goodman's life, the story might end here. The tale of another high school star who never quite lived up to the promise of his younger days. But there's always been more to Goodman.
In a game often defined by overpaid superstars who make headlines off the court for brushes with the law and self-destructive behavior, Goodman briefly turned the sport on its ear.
Fulfilled by faith
An Orthodox Jewish redhead with freckles, Goodman was taunted as "Howdy Doody" when he first appeared in Baltimore tournaments. Here was a pale, white kid topped with a yarmulke who drew crowds to witness his crossover dribble and his Jordan-like drives to the basket. Yet he would never compromise his Jewish faith for his game. Come the Jewish Sabbath, from sundown Friday till the third star appears on Saturday evening, he wouldn't pick up a basketball. It's his day of rest and prayer.
He seems fulfilled off the court, perhaps more than he has ever been on it.
Even today his genuine idea of a good time is to pull down a book of the Talmud and pore over a page with the eagerness many of his peers might save for a game of Sudoku. At the time, what was so striking about Goodman's story was the basketball world's willingness to accommodate him.
Towson reworked its schedule so there wouldn't be games or practices on Friday night or Saturday. His mother would pack him kosher food for away games, and members of the local Jewish community would be marshaled to cook for him. During Hanukkah, Goodman's teammates disabled the fire detector in their hotel room so he could light the menorah candles without setting off the alarm.
As the first Orthodox Jew to play Division I basketball, Goodman became a role model in the Jewish community and a test of American tolerance.
"He was a Joe Lieberman in sneakers," says Jeffrey Gurock, a professor of American Jewish history at Yeshiva University, where he is also an assistant basketball coach. "He became the fulfillment of the American Orthodox youngster's fantasy that a kid could be so good as a basketball player that the world would stand on its head to accommodate his religious values."
At the peak of his popularity, Goodman was receiving more than 700 media requests a week and was interviewed by 60 Minutes and Sports Illustrated and featured on ESPN.
But soon after he rejected the Maryland scholarship offer, saying the coaches became uncomfortable with his not playing on Saturdays, writers starting voicing doubts about Goodman's talents.
Among Jewish fans, however, Goodman continues to enjoy celebrity status. Eight years after the hype of his high school years, Goodman is still sought after to speak to Jewish groups in Israel and the United States. He has run basketball clinics and camps in Israel, England and America, where he often speaks with Jewish players on issues of Zionism and life in Israel.
He recently started a charity to help Israeli children who were victims of the Israeli-Hezbollah war last summer. He is a devoted member of the Lubavitch movement, a sect of Orthodox Judaism that reaches out to the non-observant. In Israel, Goodman is the only Orthodox professional basketball player, a distinction that has earned him the nickname "Big Rabbi."
The fact that his basketball career has not been a huge success does not bother many of his fans.
"There was a time when it was almost heretical within the Jewish community to say, by the way, he is not such a good player," Gurock says.
As Goodman's star has faded, other Jewish sports figures have emerged, combating the stereotype of Jews as only scholars, Gurock says. Benjamin Rubin, a 17-year-old Orthodox Jewish hockey player from Montreal, appears to be on the fast track to the NHL. Dmitriy Salita, a Ukrainian-American top welterweight boxer, is also deeply observant and refuses to fight on the Sabbath.
While Goodman acknowledges he is a role model in the Jewish community, he doesn't like to talk about his critics or discuss whether he failed to live up to everyone's expectations. He says he prefers to look forward.
"People can say what they want to say. I keep on truckin'," he says.
It's rare to hear Goodman utter anything negative. Or for him to express doubts. "Positive" is the word used by almost everyone who meets him. "Nice" is another. He's the kind of guy who hugs strangers, makes them feel like he is their best friend. He punctuates his sentences with "Thank God" and all his hopes with "God willing." He emits a glow of goodwill that his coach and teammates say is contagious.
Goodman lives in a modest second-story apartment in Givat Shmuel, near Tel Aviv, with his wife, Judy Horwitz. The couple was immediately drawn to one another, in part, because they realized they both shared more than their faith. A former cross country and track and field star from Cleveland, Horwitz would not compete on the Jewish Sabbath, either. Goodman says he wanted to marry someone who understood how important basketball was to him.