There will be a basketball game of particular interest for me Saturday night, but it’s not the one that first comes to mind.
No, it’s not the rare Saturday night tilt at the Air Canada Centre between the Toronto Raptors and the Washington Wizards being dubbed by some "Basketball Night in Canada". Instead, this one will take place at the northern edge of the city of Toronto at York University’s Tait McKenzie Field House as the York Lions take on the Laurentian Voyageurs.
What makes the game so different? It will be one where they recognize York Lions (nee Yeomen, sorry just couldn’t resist) head coach Bob Bain, which appears to be his final season as he heads for retirement. The man affectionately known as the "Bainer" is believed to be hanging up the whistle for good.
But then again, he’s threatened to do it before but just couldn’t seem to let the game go for good. Can’t say I blame him, because when you do something you love and it helps others, there’s a sense of fulfillment that has no quantitative value. You can read the bio with all the accolades and accomplishments, but there are some things it won’t tell you.
The win-loss record is one that has been built over time and is almost a footnote to how Bain has persevered through both lean and prosperous times. He’s survived a near life-claiming car accident that almost robbed the coaching profession of one of its "lifers".
The bio won’t tell you how he has dedicated himself to the university and the game of basketball and given all that he has to his players and his chosen field. But most of all it won’t tell you how he epitomizes what a coach should be.
Simply put, he’s the guy that demonstrates solid character and at an academic institution as he tries to instill and reinforce those same values that every parent tries to give their kids. Bain is one of many men in the field that do that.
He is also one of the many that do it in Canada for the right reasons. My list of others is too long to chronicle here but maybe you’ll get it in another musing in the future. These men do it, not because like their counterparts south of the border, there is fame and fortune as a spinoff. Nope, in Canada these men toil and grind it endlessly because they love game and realize the importance of shaping lives of student athletes as they pass through their program.
If Bob Bain was in the U.S. and coached 37 years including 35 years at the same school, he would be revered in the manner of an Eddie Robinson, Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp, or Bob Knight. He’d surely have a building named after him (are you listening over there at York U?) for what he has done.
From a personal standpoint, he is the one of the last to put the finishing touches on my run in this great game that is still going. I was introduced to formal basketball as a kid by an old man that drove a taxi, Sol Tanenbaum, and then was fortunate enough to be schooled by caring coaches Bob Davidson, Danny Hlutch, Ron Bartok, and Brian French in grade school before landing at the basketball factory that was Oakwood Collegiate. It was there the likes of Neil Wilson, Bob McKinney, Terry Thompson, Al Quance and Bernie Offstein wet my appetite for the game and schooled me on all parts of it before sending me on my way to the university level.
When I showed up at York University, Bain wasn’t even sure who I was, something we laugh about regularly, but kept an open mind and saw enough potential to give me a chance. I’ll give him the ultimate compliment in that he has always treated me like his own son and just like my own parents — using the right amount of praise and constructive criticism to help "form the will without breaking the spirit." Again similar to my own father, "Bainer" always seemed to have the right mix of the practical and philosophical attitude.
I’ll never forget entering the national championship tournament in my final year with our squad holding the number one ranking only to be defeated in the first round. At the end of the tournament, when I sat despondently in the locker room with my inner emotions defying me ability to take off the uniform I had worn for four seasons one last time, it was a chat with Bain that helped me move forward.
Long after the buzzer had ended my university career and still sitting in my uniform, feeling like I had let the world down because we came up short, Bain came up with one of those philosophical gems that applied some perspective to the whole situation.
It was something along the lines of, "Jonesy, you guys gave your best but it wasn’t our time. But really, this is not nearly as important as the great stuff you still have to experience in life."
He talked about things that were the light years from my consciousness and well beyond my grasp at that point in time. But, you know what, he was right on the money and as some of those things have come to fruition, I look back and laugh with him about it whenever we have the opportunity to catch up with one another.
But I wasn’t the only one that benefited from that approach. His work and teachings have turned out men who are valuable contributors to society in an array of professions like financial planners, investment bankers, sportscasters, and yes other basketball coaches among those disciplines I can remember.
So on Saturday night at the "Tait" they will honour a man that has dedicated himself to doing his best as a coach and teaching young men about life on and off the court. One thing for sure is, he has unquestionably succeeded at doing just that. The next man in has big shoes to fill.
Thanks Bob and congrats "Bainer" on a job well done. Maybe the current Lions will have one last playoff run to carry you out if you decide this is really it. And if it is, to use that phrase, "it’s your time, Bob"; time for you to step away and look back and reflect on a job well done.