NBA championship trophy reserved for winning team

Updated Saturday September 27, 2014 by Welland Minor Basketball Association.

Only people who earned their spurs helping San Antonio end the 2013-14 season alone in the winner’s circle are entitled to touch the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy that was on display Thursday night in Welland.

Everyone else is free to admire the gleaming example of what Tiffany’s charges about $60,000 to produce to exact specifications annually from a respectful distance. Go ahead, get close and personal, admire your reflection in the basketball topping the golden chalice of pro hoops in North America if you want, but no touching please. You haven’t earned the right.

To enforce that hands-off policy during the trophy’s visit to a Welland Minor Basketball Association (WMBA) photo op at Confederation high school, a sign next to the trophy said don’t touch and a man representing NBA Canada’s marketing and events department in Toronto stood watch nearby to make sure the handwritten request was heeded.

It’s not that a league that’s always on the lookout to penalize traveling violations on the court is worried someone will take the trophy and travel off to their basement or to the nearest fence.

Much bigger than a bread basket, only slightly smaller than a 70-pint dehumidifier, the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy can’t exactly be stuffed down your sock or tucked under your coat. It is too big to conceal in even the biggest of backpacks. A hockey equipment bag — preferably, goalie size — might do the trick.

No, a protocol requiring non-champions, even from the league office, to wear white gloves whenever they handle the trophy is more about the mystique surrounding a prize that, unlike hockey’s Stanley Cup, is unique to one particular team.

While there’s only one Stanley Cup, which is circulated from team to team and has been handed down from one generation to the next, and will be as long as there is pro hockey, the Larry O’Brien, like the Vince Lombardi Trophy, for Super Bowl winners; and the World Series Trophy, for the darlings of the diamond; is kept by the team that wins it.

“There’s a new one every year and this one belongs to the San Antonio Spurs, and only the San Antonio Spurs. They’re the only ones who get to touch it, because they’re the only ones who earned it,” the man from the NBA office in Toronto told me.

When you put it that way, I can respect that. Since I didn’t lift a finger in enduring the 82-game marathon that is the NBA regular season and the do-or-die sprint that is the playoffs, what gives me the right to put my entire hand on the trophy.

To Welland minor basketball official Mike Rao, the trophy was a sight to behold, because he had never beheld it before.

“The Stanley Cup I’ve seen 20 times, it’s something we grew up with. This is foreign to me,” said Rao, who along with Frank Mete heads the WMBA’s Jr. NBA program the trophy was in town to promote.

He suggested the Larry O’Brien Trophy is to basketball players south of the border what Lord Stanley’s mug is to hockey players in Canada.

“This is a mainstay of American culture,” said Rao, a high school teacher and head coach of the senior boys basketball team at Notre Dame.

Designed to encourage development among five- to nine-year-olds in Welland minor basketball’s entry-level novice divisions, the Jr. NBA program stresses fundamentals while keeping basketball fun. As part of the program players competing at the high school level volunteer their time and work on-on-one with the youngsters who one day will follow in their size-13 footsteps.

“For a lot of these kinds, these are their role models. They get to work side-by-side with the older players they look up to,” Mete said in outlining the goals of the program.

Ethan Degazio, one of five Notre Dame players who will be assisting Mete and Rao as instructors in the 20-session program, expects to benefit from sharing his passion for the game with the youngsters.

“It will help with patience, that’s for sure. I never had a brother or sister growing up, so this is new to me,” the 18-year-old said.

Having to slow down the game so the novices can appreciate where he’s coming from should also help the Grade 12 B student with his own game and with what his coach wants.

“I think I will get a good grasp of where he (Rao) is coming from.”

Giving their time and talents to others is all part of the “we philosophy” that players on the Fighting Irish are encouraged to adopt.

“The best potential of ‘me’ is ‘we.’ I’ve done it my entire life,” Rao said of his team-first approach to basketball — and to life.

Sports editor Bernd Franke’s column appears Saturdays. He can be reached at 905-684-7251, ext. 1146, or be e-mail at Follow him on Twitter at @TribSportsDesk.

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