Born David Bluthenthal in July 1980, the 6-foot-7 athlete played basketball for the University of Southern California before joining Maccabi Tel Aviv, a professional basketball club based in Tel Aviv, Israel. He was adored by Maccabi devotees, professionally celebrated when invited to play for the Israeli national team, and became one of Europe’s most sought-after talents.
In his final season, after returning from his first retirement, he played for Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv, and helped the team win the coveted “Triple Crown,” including the 2014 Turkish Airlines Euroleague final four, the Israeli cup and league championship. In the summer of 2010 and 2011 David represented the Israeli National Basketball team in the Eurobasket, which is the prequalification games for the Olympics. He has also played for top teams in Italy, France and Russia. Blu is considered to be one of the top 3-point shooters and most professional players in Euroleague history.
He recently made his way down south from LA to meet with me (it was hard to miss him standing almost as tall as the entrance door to the JCC) and allowed us a glimpse into the past, present and future of David Blu. ⇓
You have such an interesting background- the son of a Jewish mother, Suzanne (a nurse whom he lost to cancer when he was 14) and an African-American father, Ralph, who converted to Judaism. What were some of the struggles you overcame and do you think it helped shape you into the man you are today? Well there were not many black Jews where I grew up in the 1980s. I remember my mom would take me to games with the better competition which was in the inner city areas and she would be the only white face in the crowd, some of the kids would make fun of me because of my look and last name, Bluthenthal. Then my Dad would take me to games in the more white areas and the kids weren’t always friendly to me. They wouldn’t include me in their inside jokes. I had a lot of identity and anger issues early on. It seemed like I was always in trouble in school because of that. Eventually I turned that frustration into motivation –I would get in the weight room and play basketball all day long. I wanted to be the best player in the game and force these other kids to accept me – I wanted to be the first guy chosen when picking teams on the playground. I think that drive has served me well as my career has evolved.
Do you still have that tough minded mentality with regard to your newest business ventures—being the best? (Blu recently signed with Keller Williams Commercial in Beverly Hills and is specializing in multifamily and retail property investment sales). Yes. I really just transferred the energy and work ethic that I had in basketball into business. However, I am not in the same physically intense situations. When I was a player and had a physical altercation with a teammate or opponent at practice or in a game, I would feel terrible afterwards. I had to remind myself that it’s just basketball, there’s no need for over the top aggression. Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to be lot of elbows or other physical cheap shots thrown in business.
My toughness helped get me through hard workouts, tough practices and games. Toward the end of my career if I was tired, I trained myself how to think back to a time that was more challenging for me. My opponent would resemble some of the more hurtful people from my childhood and I would get in my defensive stance and tell myself that no one was going to score on me. Or I would want to hit a crucial three pointer to win the game. Especially on the road. It’s important to be happy and positive in your everyday life, but sometimes you have to find a little extra motivation to help you focus on getting through the tough times. Like a switch.
Now I am not so concerned with being “the best” as I am with just being happy and having success in business and life. I try to always remain positive.
What do you miss the most about living in Israel and playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv? I lived in Tel Aviv for 7 years— playing for Maccabi is like playing for the LA Lakers, you’re a celebrity and everywhere you go people recognize you. No matter where I went I was instantly recognized, and I am thankful for that experience. I have family there and made some close friends whom I miss dearly. Tel Aviv is like another home. Oh, and I really miss the food. I look forward to visiting soon.
Do you still play basketball? My friend Adam King and I started a basketball team which will play in the 2 million dollar ESPN Basketball Tournament. We found a gym in Venice to rent every Tuesday night. On Sunday we make a list of guys invited to play and invite spectators and friends to come and watch the pick-up games. Our team is representing Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. We always have a few pros running with us. Once a week is about all my body can handle at this point. But being on the court is my sanctuary, so I try to find time and energy for the game.
Have you been back to Israel recently? The last time I went to Israel was in February of 2015 before I started working at Merrill Lynch. I would love to go back soon if the right opportunity presented itself.
Tell us about the invitation to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers from your former coach David Blatt. David Blatt was my coach in Israel, and he called me and asked if I would like to come try out for the Cavs. He just got the job, and could not guarantee me a spot. At that time I just got my real estate license and was developing great relationships in different business industries. I couldn’t just pick up and go to Cleveland, leave my family here for a month or more and hope for a spot on the team. Plus after so many injuries, my body and mind couldn’t go through another professional basketball season let alone the work it would take to get back in shape for a training camp.
Where do you see yourself professionally in 10 years? In 10 years professionally I see myself as a successful commercial real estate agent and investor. I am also very much interested in technology and different startups as investments. I see myself as a connector of buyers and sellers for tech companies and investors. Kind of an all-around liaison. I’d also like to get more involved with basketball at some point. Specifically, in player development. But I think the basketball part will be more realistic once I have some success in business.
I heard that you are the only player in European Basketball to win European cups under two different names! (Blu won in 2014 and as Bluthenthal in 2004, both times with Maccabi Tel Aviv) Haha, Yeah that’s true. The other two guys to win championships with two different names are Kareem Abdul Jabar (Lou Alcinder) and Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay). Also, there is only one athlete to retire and come back right away and win championships… Michael Jordan. So, I’m in pretty good company.
For the latest news about David please follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/davidblu.
Tanya Schwied graduated from New York University, studied abroad in Israel, and currently works for the CEO and President of Jewish Federation & Family Services.