As many of us have experienced at one time or another, end of year celebrations sometimes do not measure up to the hype that accompanies them. This year, however, that was certainly not the case. The NBRPA hosted a red-hot basketball bonanza at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland for the 2nd edition of the Legends of Basketball Showcase in the waning days of 2023. With top tier basketball programs Akron, St. Bonaventure, Ohio, Davidson, and the main event featuring West Virginia taking on Ohio State University, this industrial city on Lake Erie was home to a must-watch for college hoops lovers nationwide. The event, with its sizzling atmosphere, that featured not one, or two, but three incredibly close and energetic games, managed to make fans inside the raucous arena forget the 40-degree, drizzly conditions outside.

The weekend started with what is the crown jewel of so many of the NBRPA’s community efforts: the NBRPA Full Court Press Clinic at the Case Western Reserve University, Veale Center. With the incredible help and drive of the NBRPA’s Cleveland Chapter, over 100 local youth from the City of Cleveland organization were treated to Legends leading basketball drills and offering off the court advice to the participants. Cleveland Legends and other NBRPA members, led by Jr. NBA coach Frank Lopez, expertly directed youth through proper dribbling techniques, rebounding drills, and fundamental defensive positioning and capped the event with a heart-to-heart discussion on the importance of life skills. The fact that these instructions were coming from such an accomplished group was not lost to the youth or their parents as they watched and captured images from the sidelines in amazement and gratitude.

That evening, the NBRPA and their Legends were out in full force again, showing the camaraderie that is omnipresent in this organization and were given the royal treatment as special guests of the Cleveland Cavaliers at their game vs. the Milwaukee Bucks. Legends like Greg Oden were feted by the Cavs on the jumbotron as an arena chock full of the Ohio State faithful proudly chanted their famed O-H-I-O calls that have become synonymous with the university and their sporting events. Current NBA players Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and Max Strus did a double take and came to greet these Legends that built this game of ours when they spotted them taking in the pregame action during warmups. Fans, players, teams and mascots were all fully aware of the significance these individuals have in the long history of basketball and boy did they show the love – did they ever. 

On Saturday, December 30, game day arrived, and it arrived in a huge way. The on-court action tipped off with Davidson holding on to top Ohio 72-69 in a hotly contested back-and-forth affair. Game two of the event featured the Bonnies of St. Bonaventure edging the Akron Zips 62-61 and setting the stage for the Ohio State vs. West Virginia headliner. Prior to the final game, the NBRPA hosted its Legends of Basketball Showcase Tip Off Party at Barley House, a famed Cleveland watering hole. The party, presented by the imitable Maker’s Mark brand, was highlighted by fans mingling with NBRPA Legends Greg Oden, Jim Jackson, Brad Sellers and Derrick Polk, who were representing their beloved Buckeyes, along with authentic signed memorabilia from Mountaineer Legends Jerry West and Rod Thorn being raffled off to support the NBRPA’s charitable efforts and Legends Care programs.

Now it was on to the main event: The Ohio State University taking on West Virginia in a prime-time game that was nationally televised on FOX. Energy filled the building during the warmups and reached a crescendo when the refs tipped the contest off. After many runs by both teams and a sensational comeback by West Virginia in the final minutes of regulation, the clock struck 0:00 and we were all knotted at 65-65. It’s only right that this weekend didn’t finish in regulation. We, the fans, and the players all wanted more basketball, so to overtime we went. In the extra period, Ohio State and their star Roddy Gayle Jr.’s 32-point career high outburst proved to be just a bit too much for the upstart Mountaineers as Ohio State emerged victorious in the 78-75 OT thriller. 

Three close games, great food, drinks and laughs, Legends galore, and maybe most importantly of all: Legends getting together like family for the holidays. We can only hope that 2024 continues how 2023 ended, with all of us together around this game we love.