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Farmar's many sides might serve him well

It's almost Christmas. And at the top of Jordan Farmar's wish list: some clarity.

It's been a tough season on the court for the Lakers' backup point guard. He's shooting below 40 percent from the field for the first time in his three-year career. This past week, he and Lakers coach Phil Jackson engaged in a civil, but somewhat tense discussion in the Los Angeles press about Farmar's role with the team.

Farmar is a dazzling ball handler with court vision and a knack for running the break. But now he's being asked to sublimate many of those strengths for the sake of a more structured offense.

Farmar shared his frustration with the Los Angeles Times. "I was trying to go out there and do what I was told. Every time I would do what [the Lakers' coaching staff] asked me to do, it seemed like it was the wrong thing at that time, the wrong choice. I'm just trying to figure it out and do what they ask me in any capacity, whatever it is," Farmar said.

Then, on Friday night in a game against Miami, Farmar suffered a tear of the lateral meniscus in his left knee. There's no timetable for his return.

Every young guy deals with expectations, but for Farmar, the list is unique. For Phil Jackson, Farmar must be at once an infusion of youth, and a font of good decisions, who won't interrupt the flow of the Lakers' polished offense. For Jewish basketball lovers everywhere, Farmar is -- as the League's only Jewish player -- charged with being an inspiration. And for his mother? He has to honor a commitment to run a charity.

Farmar's mother, Mindy Kolani, spoke about a conversation she had with her son when it became apparent he had a chance to make basketball his career. "I asked Jordan that, if he made it to the NBA, he'd do two things for me. Take care of [his younger sister] Shawn if anything happened to me, and start a foundation." Farmar fulfilled his promise to his mom by establishing the Jordan Farmar Foundation, which works with several charities, including UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital.

That commitment to his mother is why a few hours after he spoke to the Times, Farmar is sitting with a friend in a parked Denali on the upper floor of the Martin Automotive Group showroom in West Los Angeles. Uncharacteristic of professional athletes, Farmar was half an hour early to a Toys For Tots drive being sponsored by the dealership and the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. As green rooms go, you can do a lot worse than a luxury SUV.

The west side of Los Angeles is an improbable place for a holiday toy drive. In this affluent neighborhood, there's relatively little evidence of the economic crisis that has ravaged the nation. But for Farmar, that's kind of the point.

"Times are tough right now, but people in this area are doing OK. If using my name or likeness can help get some of them to give back, then I want to help," Farmar said. At 6 p.m., Farmar went downstairs, where a few dozen donors trickled into the dealership. Farmar, alongside servicemen from the Marine Corps Reserves, accepted the gifts, posed for photos and signed autographs.

The irony of Farmar's role as the NBA's only Jew is that religion is not a big part of his life. Farmar grew up with an African-American father, a white Jewish mother, and an Israeli stepfather. When asked what it's like to be the NBA's only Jewish player, Farmar shrugged.

"It's who I am, but I don't practice religion," he said.

Farmar understands that whatever his level of observance or nonobservance, he's an important symbol for many.

"There are people in the Jewish community who can relate to me," Farmar said. "They feel they can have someone to hold onto and reach out to."

During the holiday season as a kid, he celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. "When I was with my mother, it was Hanukkah -- presents, lighting the menorah, saying the prayers. Then when Christmas came around, I'd do Christmas with my dad's side of the family," he said.

For Farmar, the value of his ecumenical upbringing lies in his capacity to speak to a broad range of people. "I can relate to all sides," Farmar said.

In July, Farmar spent time at Seeds of Peace International Camp in Maine, where 160 kids -- Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Americans -- worked on basketball fundamentals and teamwork skills. Farmar believes that basketball can be a lingua franca for kids from different backgrounds who, in many cases, are raised to despise one another.

"Basketball teaches human values: teamwork, working well with others, taking instruction and criticism from authority figures, bouncing back from adversity," Farmar said.

Leslie Lewin, the camp director at Seeds of Peace, said that Farmar had a unique ability to communicate with the campers. "He spoke with our campers about the various cultures and religions that are present in his family life. He listened intently to their dialogue discussions and difficult conversations with one another and offered great support to this process, mostly based on his own experiences."

A week after running drills at Seeds of Peace, Farmar traveled overseas to apply those experiences in Israel.

Jordan Farmar appreciates that he can't please everybody -- whether he's trying to fit into the triangle offense, or be an athletic torchbearer to a group that has few. But there are some whose expectations are worth meeting. Like your mother's.

And on this day, there he is, honoring his family, his coach and his values by carrying box loads of gifts, through the rain, to a truck waiting outside a Los Angeles car dealership. He might never be everything to everybody -- is anyone? -- but he's certainly trying.

Kevin Arnovitz is an NBA editor for ESPN.com.