Those Were The Days

Those Were The Days

“Those were the days.” A phrase that usually makes people feel happy and sad and everything in between. Most of the time, people’s memories are exaggerated and the way they felt in that moment may not match the way they feel when they are remembering it. Last week I had the privilege of working at the NBA Draft Combine. Many of the top prospects at the Combine just experienced their “those were the days” moments. Some as recently  as two months ago in the NCAA Tournament. This past week, I had the privilege of attending the Yeshiva Alumni Basketball Association (YABA) Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Specifically, I was there to celebrate Saul Goldberg’s amazing career at Yeshiva of Flatbush in the 1970’s. In contrast to the prospects at the NBA Draft Combine, many of the hall of fame inductees experienced their “those were the days” moments over 30 or 40 years ago.

For most of the prospects at the Combine, “those were the days” will represent their successful college careers. Players like Marcus Paige and Bryce Johnson, who will go undrafted and in the late first round/early second round respectively, will remember their final magical season in Chapel Hill. A year in which they were a buzzer beater away from winning the national title. Many draft hopefuls will meet with teams over the next month before the Draft. But many of them will fall short of their dreams. Yes, some of them will be stars or journeymen in the NBA. But many more will play internationally or in the D-League (not such a bad thing if I may say so myself) and never sniff the NBA.

But one thing people cannot take away from them is their memories. Most of them won state championships and other individual state and nationwide accolades in high school. They then took the next step and not only played in college but performed at the top level. In fact, they were invited to Chicago, with a chance to perform in front of all 30 NBA teams. I walked the players around for two days in Chicago. From their physicals, to their measurements to their interviews with the teams to their time on the court at the gym. Some were nervous, some did not give me the time of the day and others just had big smiles on their faces (Buddy Hield, Brandon Ingram, and Marcus were some of the nicest, fun-loving guys.) The ones with the smiles on their faces realized how special a moment this was for them. For some, this is the first step to greatness. For others, this will be their closest encounter with the NBA. But in 10, 20,30 years, when the 2016 NBA Draft Combine is just a distant memory, they will tell their children and grandchildren “those were the days, when I performed in front of Jerry West and Larry Bird at the NBA Draft Combine. “

For most of the inductees of YABA, their greatest basketball memories are a thing of the past. I like to compare a person’s high school basketball career (at least those that never made it too far in college) to their fantasy football team. Other than their teammates, or in this comparison the other members of their fantasy league, no one really cares. See I can tell you about my two Prep B championships in basketball while playing at Solomon Schechter Day School, but do you really care. I probably have your attention for a minute or two, but either you have heard the story or could care less about some small Jewish school winning two championships a decade ago. The same holds true for fantasy football. Nobody cares about how you won some crazy matchup by 0.1 points to win a league title five years ago. But YABA opened my eyes up to something else. For one night, it allowed the inductees to reminisce on their experiences in high school.

But this time instead of losing the crowd, everyone sat listening attentively. As someone who did not participate in the Yeshiva League, but have many family and friends who did, I was sucked into this ceremony. The hall of famers could make the same jokes they have been making for 40 years or tell the same exact story they have told a thousand times over, but it didn’t matter. Their family and friends who came to support them laughed or smiled, just like they do every time. So for one night, everyone in the room agreed “those were the days.”

This is what basketball does. It brings people together from all different backgrounds with the common goal of playing as a team to win. People develop friendships and bonds with teammates and foes for years to come. And as one YABA hall of famer put it, “ playing basketball allows people to gain the self-confidence and leadership capability that they will use for the rest of their lives.”

In an upset special, “Exaggerator” will win the Preakness.

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