Written By Sam Oshtry
Basketball enthusiast Doug Gottlieb has been around the sport for as long as he can remember. It’s hard to pinpoint his role in the game because he has done it all as a player, coach and analyst. The bouncing ball has been ingrained in him since he was young. He grew up watching his dad coach, went on to play collegiately and professionally, and currently coaches his son.
But now, he’s once again taking on one of his favorite roles. As the 21st Maccabiah men’s open division head coach, the 46-year-old coach will repeat the unforgettable opportunity he had previously in 2017.
“The basketball is great, but the camaraderie and the team building is the unique part and it’s just incredible,” said Gottlieb, a popular radio host for Fox Sports.
In February of 2016, Gottlieb got a call from Josh Schachter, his former Maccabiah teammate and the then-recently appointed chair for Maccabiah men’s basketball. Schacter offered him the head coaching gig of the open basketball team in the 2017 games. Without hesitation, Gottlieb responded, “Yes.”
Gottlieb’s 2017 squad went on to win the gold medal, but more importantly for Gottlieb, he made relationships for life and gave back to the Maccabi USA organization that has given him so much.
“The playing is awesome, the coaching is even better,” Gottlieb said. “Because you get to help all these other kids.”
Gottlieb competed, and medaled, for Maccabi USA in 1997, 1999 and 2001, either in the Pan-American Maccabi Games or the Maccabiah Games in Israel. And in 2009, Gottlieb served as an assistant coach for The Games under then-Tennessee head coach and current Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl.
Gottlieb was on the staff and attended training camp in both Knoxville, Tennessee and Philadelphia. However, his wife was due with one of their three kids in July, so he couldn’t travel to Israel for the actual competition. But Pearl immediately saw that Gottlieb recognized the magnitude of the task.
“This was more of a responsibility of taking a dozen young Jewish boys over to Israel and bringing them home as Jewish men,” Pearl said. “To come back as an ally of Israel and then be in a position to do a better job of impacting their own families… and Doug saw that.”
Pearl isn’t surprised that Gottlieb went on to succeed as head coach. He saw up close the kind of hard-nosed, tough coach who cares about winning and about his players, similar to the persona Pearl has embodied.
“He [Gottlieb] was a bigger a**hole than I was,” Pearl said. “He would absolutely go bananas and ballistic because that’s my reputation, right? He was more Bruce Pearl than Bruce Pearl.”
Sam Singer, who was a member of the 2017 team and played at the University of California for Gottlieb’s brother Gregg, believes Doug’s strength as a coach is in fostering a culture that makes everyone buy in to something bigger than themselves, despite his occasional blow-ups.
“It was only 4 weeks, but I felt like we had been together for years and that’s a testament to the environment Doug created as our coach and leader,” Singer said.
Spencer Weiss was also on the 2017 team but had reservations about going to The Games for a variety of reasons. Doug bombarded him with texts hoping he could convince Weiss to play. Eventually, he did.
“With his personality, it’s kind of hard to say no,” Weiss said of Gottlieb.
Singer, who remains close friends with Weiss, went onto play professionally in the Israeli Premier League following the 20th Maccabiah, signing his first contract to play there with Gottlieb by his side.
“A big part of that was because Doug believed in me and pushed me to tap into what he knew I had,” Singer said.
This time around, as preparations for the 2022 games began, Gottlieb was interested in coaching again. However, an opportunity came up to make Jon Scheyer, who at the time was an assistant coach at Duke University, the head coach for the open division team. The tryout took place last summer at Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke.
But when longtime Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski announced his retirement and that Scheyer was replacing him, it threw a wrench into the coaching situation. Scheyer could no longer commit to spending the month of July coaching in Israel.
Eventually Schachter, who remains the chair, called Gottlieb and offered him the head coach position again. It was another yes, although this time Gottlieb was not at the tryout, did not select the team and did not meet most of his players in person prior to training camp. But he says he still has confidence in this group.
Gottlieb has become a staple on the basketball scene at the Maccabiah in Israel. From playing to coaching, he has racked up a few medals around his neck, going back to the 20th century.
The incredible nature of The Games that many athletes will experience for the first time this July came back in 1997 for Gottlieb when he played in his first Maccabiah.
Gottlieb remembers waiting in line to walk out for the opening ceremonies with the USA delegation that year. One of the leaders of that 1997 squad gathered the team and said “Fellas, look to your left. Fellas, look to your right. Look straight ahead. Look behind you. This is probably the only time in your life you’re ever going to see this many people your age who are all Jewish athletes.”
Gottlieb, who played collegiately at Oklahoma State before a brief professional playing career that included stops overseas and in the NBA summer league, says that beyond the slight rule changes and the religious makeup of the athletes, there is something else unique about the Maccabiah Games.
“It’s international competition where you represent the United States,” Gottlieb said. “I don’t care what it is, you wear USA and that flag on your chest, I mean, it’s a special, special thing in any sport, but basketball especially because we are the standard bearer.”
“It’s good for your basketball soul,” Gottlieb added.
Although he comes from a coaching background — his dad and brother both coached at the Division I level — and he has had various amateur coaching jobs, it’s not his day job. That would be talking about games as a popular, and often controversial, radio host for Fox Sports. He previously worked for ESPN and CBS Sports.
His daily show, which runs from 12 p.m.-3 p.m. Pacific time, is continuing with Gottlieb’s voice over the airwaves while he’s coaching at The Games, albeit with a slight change in time. Gottlieb will go live from 10 p.m.-1 a.m. Jerusalem time every weekday night from his hotel room in Jerusalem.
These games are even more special for Gottlieb as his daughter, Harper, who is in a foreign country for the first time, is competing on the equestrian team.
“Just time with your daughter in a foreign country [is special],” Gottlieb said, “She’s really talented and a fierce competitor.”
That competitive spirit clearly runs in the family, as her dad gears up for what he hopes will be his second consecutive gold medal as head coach for the men’s open basketball team, which will open the competition against Argentina on July 15.
Whatever happens this summer, Gottlieb hopes to continue getting that call from Schacter.
“I want to coach this thing every time and have different people come and coach with me,” Gottlieb said.
Sam Oshtry is Philadelphia native and a rising senior at the University of Maryland. Follow him on twitter (@soshtry) and at maccabiusa.com/maccabimedia for more coverage of the 21st Maccabiah.