Jordan Farmar is one of the NBA’s brightest young stars. The 22-year-old recently signed a four-year deal $8 million with LA Lakers.
But he has failed to recapture last season’s form, in only his second year of pro-basketball, when he played in all 82 games, and the Lakers went all the way to the NBA finals before succumbing to the Boston Celtics.
This season the 6ft 2in guard has averaged 20 minutes, usually coming off the bench to replace the legendary Derek Fisher, as the Lakers have lost only three out of 20 games. But Farmar’s points average is well below last season and coach Phil Jackson recently reprimanded him after he criticised the team for being too defensive. The coming year will be make or break.
Farmar is the son of former African-American professional baseball player Damon Farmar and a Jewish mother Melinda Kolani. His parents divorced when he was two and his mother re-married to Israeli-born Yehuda Kolani three years later.
“Yehuda helped raise me and was always a father figure,” recalls Farmar. “In Israel, Yehuda grew up in an orthodox home. In Los Angeles he moderated his observance but we kept Shabbat and the festivals. I wasn’t always crazy about the traditions, especially when they clashed with basketball. For example, I had to spend Shabbat with the family and wasn’t allowed to play.
“Looking back, I now understand that Yehuda’s insistence on this matter was right and my exposure to Judaism has added an extra dimension to my life.
“It also showed me how much Yehuda considered me his own child. He could easily have said to my mother I wasn’t his son so why should he care about Shabbat.”
Farmar spent his childhood summers in Israel, where coincidentally his step-father’s cousin is Lior Mizrachi, one of Israel’s greatest ever female basketball players, who retired earlier this year aged 38.
Farmar and Mizrachi have always been close. Farmar’s half-sister Shoshi Kolani, 14, is already a high school basketball star who wants to play in the WNBA in years to come.
Farmar grew up in Los Angeles and took the unusual step of dropping out of college basketball with UCLA to join the Lakers when he was just 19, tempted by a $2 million contract for two years. Many felt that this was a foolish decision, especially for a guard who has to be a midfield general using brain rather than brawn and where experience is all the more important.
“It has been a wonderful education to play alongside the likes of Kobi Bryant and Fisher,” he explains.
“They give me so much advice, although in the end you have to play your own game in your own way.”
Farmar has proved the pundits wrong, and though he may be a college drop-out, in addition to doing his talking on the parquet, he is also articulate. He has appeared publicly to endorse Barack Obama’s campaign, not only agreeing with his policies but presumably also identifying with the presidential candidates mixed African/European background.
Farmar has always remained close to his genetic father and this has clearly encouraged a passion for bringing together people of different ethnic origins. He spent the summer break working for Seeds of Peace in the US and the Peres Centre in Israel coaching coexistence camps for Israelis and Palestinians.
“Growing up, I had friends who didn’t see colours or religions,” he recalls, “and who were open to everything. I mean, my black friends would come and do Passover dinner with me, sitting there with the yarmulke on their head and hanging out with my family.
“At the same time, my Jewish friends would come to the black side of my family’s house and do Thanksgiving eve and soul food and all that kind of stuff. Everybody was open to getting different perspectives.”
Unusually for someone of mixed race parentage, Farmar looks more white than black and he chuckles when recollecting boyhood experiences. “I would go into a community with the black kids and they would say, “Oh, that white boy can play.”
For the upcoming season, Farmar simply wants to log more playing time, improve on the average of 9.1 points per game he scored in 2007/08 and see the Lakers go one better and win the NBA finals.