Before moving to Tel Aviv, Tarik Black played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockers, the University of Kansas and the University of Memphis. Before moving to Tel Aviv, Tarik Black played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockers, the University of Kansas and the University of Memphis. Before moving to Tel Aviv, Tarik Black played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockers, the University of Kansas and the University of Memphis. (Photo: Al Bello / Getty Images for the NBPA)

Israeli basketball star gives back to U.S. youth

Tarik Black on helping underprivileged kids, moving to Tel Aviv and ... studying Picasso?

Tarik Black orders the Riesling.

"I don't drink at all," the 27-year-old basketball star admits as we settle into a late dinner at the Tel Aviv hotspot Messa. Joining us is his wife Kennedy and their one-and-a-half-year-old son, Naim. "I'm trying to start drinking more wine and get into it. Just the formality of it. I think that wine is a taste for a mature tastebud. And I'm trying to grow. I've been expanding and growing."

Personal growth would be a good way to sum up Black. Indeed, at this very moment, the man himself is sporting a ski cap with the words "Be More" emblazoned on it, a mantra he takes to heart.

While many former NBA players – Black played for both the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers – would be angling for the next big endorsement deal to pad their own pockets, he has taken the opposite approach: creating a charity to help underprivileged youth in the U.S. The Tarik Black Foundation, launched in 2017, aims to inspire kids and prepare them to become successful adults. The organization is based in Memphis, where Black grew up and played college basketball. He installed his mom as the group's president.

Sure, they offer a basketball summer camp, but they also train teenagers how to put on a tie and perform well at a job interview. "We take them to apartment complexes and teach them about what you should look for in purchasing an apartment," he tells me. "We take them out to nice dinners. We teach them police etiquette, which is really important in inner cities. We just try to build up their character and the ethical values that they'll really need."

They organized an art show in Los Angeles where the teenagers got dressed in tuxedos and learned how to network. In Houston, they partnered with the National Tennis Association for a charity event.

"My mother would drive me around Memphis and show me real poverty, show me people who are growing up in circumstances that don't have opportunities. And she would always tell me, 'If you ever get a chance to give back to these people, if you're in a position that you can help, then you must. That was always instilled in me," he says, leaning back into the banquette. "I remember offering people money if they didn't have money. I've just always been a very giving, big-hearted person, and it's only grown since I've gotten older. And I've been very blessed and fortunate to have the resources to do so. So that's an obligation."

He caresses Naim's head. "Being a servant – giving back – is my greatest calling."

The wine arrives and the Blacks order the entrecote steak, medium well – along with shallots, focaccia, veal sweet bread, lamp chops and truffle ravioli. After all, he just got off practice and needs to refuel his 6-foot-9-inch body. The waitress brings a plate of chicken and mashed potatoes for Naim.

The family moved to Israel in the summer of 2018, when Black signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel's premiere basketball powerhouse. In addition to playing other Israeli teams, they also compete in the Euroleague with games in countries like Greece, Spain and Italy. "My son's one-and-a-half and he's been to almost as many countries as me," Black says with a laugh. "His passport is stamped from everywhere."

For them, the move was prophetic. "We used to always talk about vacations, and I would tell my wife that my No. 1 place in the world to go to was Israel," Black said. They even gave their son a Hebrew name before they found out about playing for an Israeli team.

Tarik Black has had a record season playing in Israel, hitting a career-high 19 points in one game. Tarik Black has had a record season playing in Israel, hitting a career-high 19 points in one game. (Photo: Courtesy Maccabi Tel Aviv)

"We walk a lot more here, which is beneficial for us, health-wise," says Kennedy, who runs a beauty and lifestyle blog. "The food is healthier. We really like that. It's really helped his career."

"My body feels great this year," Tarik pipes in. "The changes were good for us. Coming over here was a breath of fresh air for us." They've been touring around, taking in spots like the Sea of Galilee and the northern part of the country. "Haifa is very similar to San Francisco," he says.

Baby Naim was given a Hebrew name even before moving to Israel. It means 'sweet.' Baby Naim was given a Hebrew name even before moving to Israel. It means 'sweet.' (Photo: Courtesy Tarik Black)

Over dessert, Black reveals yet another side to his personality. "I'm a big science and history buff. I've always been studious. From the beginning, I've always been inquisitive as well. Why is the sun yellow? Why is the sky blue? I was always that kid that would ask those questions."

He brings up chemical bonds and Boyle's Law. "I'm studying science a lot more. Now that I'm getting older, I like studying what people truly believed in, what they were looking to accomplish and achieve with their work." He pauses as he cradles Naim to his chest. "You don't really understand a Picasso painting unless you study Picasso and what he stood for."

He looks to the likes of Magic Johnson and LeBron James, as basketball stars who have made a difference in their communities. "Honestly, the doors are open for us to pursue anything we want to do." He's invested in a couple companies in the U.S. and is being introduced to people in Israel to work with startups there as well.

The Maccabi Tel Aviv season will end just in time for him to return to Memphis to conduct his summer camps in July, 2019.

It's still up in the air if Black will be coming back for a second season in Tel Aviv. But he's not worried. "If you keep the bigger picture in mind, you always have a sense of humility and you always have a true perspective of the blessing that you're walking in."

Left to right: Benyamin Cohen, Tarik Black, Naim Black and Kennedy Raye Black in Tel Aviv. Left to right: Benyamin Cohen, Tarik Black, Naim Black and Kennedy Raye Black in Tel Aviv. (Photo: Courtesy Benyamin Cohen)

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