Call it the Miracle of Live Oak, destined to be right up there with the Miracle of the First Night when it comes to Jewish legends.
Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews, began Friday night. So it was only fitting that two hours before sunset Friday three Jewish ballers who call themselves The Chosen Ones – Jeff Goldstein, “Dangerous “ Dave Sherwood and “Hook Shot” John Arfin — out-played, out-fought and out-lasted nine other teams to win the annual Live Oak 3-on-3 basketball Classic.
The miraculous part was that no one – not even themselves — had projected the Chosen Ones as pre-tournament favorites. Only Sherwood could be considered an elite, A-level player — an under-sized one at that — who excels because of his reckless relentlessness in attacking the basket backed up by a solid outside jumper and ferocious defense. Goldstein is a classic jump-shooter who can play inside if he has to while Arfin is the hustler-battler willing to do the dirty work in exchange for getting to shoot an occasional hook shot.
The tournament, which wasn’t held last year, produced many memorable moments that fired up the fans who ringed the court with beach chairs and six-packs on a hot late-summer afternoon. The rowdy crowd included Live Oak legends Mike Foley, Eric Goldbach, Kevin Barry, John Straight and Harry Lewis.
As the afternoon wore on the clouds cleared and the hot sun beat down relentlessly on amped-up players who would do anything to get that coveted champion’s hoodie sweatshirt. By the last hour – it started at noon and went past 5 p.m. – it seemed like there were more bodies crashing to the hard concrete court than shots falling through the soft net.
It was such a grueling afternoon that two of the players in a memorable semi-final game – Mike “Smooth” Smith and Gary “Mr. B” Kandel, who got the crowd out of their seats with a lights-out shooting exhibition — were forced to leave the game with cramps and replaced by players with fresher legs. One of the subs, Mike Cottle, immediately hit several long jumpers to help push his team, Viva Gringos, into the Final. The other sub, Scott “Syracuse” Talbot, who had begun partying because he thought his playing day was over, immediately missed so many jumpers and drives that he raised his arms to the heavens in gratitude when he finally hit a shot.
The tight, tense Finals featured The Chosen Ones vs. Viva Gringos, consisting of big man Juan Moreno, Chris “C-Pal” Palisin – the varsity coach at La Quinta High in Garden Grove — and Cottle, continuing to sub for Mr. B, who was forced to cheer for his team from the sidelines while limping around.
Cottle continued his hot streak and quickly hit two long jumpers to put the Gringos up 2-0 in the first-to-11- game. Goldstein drilled an elbow jumper to get his team on the board, but Moreno crashed inside for a stick-back and C-Pal hit his signature shot – a 10-foot fade-away turnaround from the right side — to build the early lead to 4-1. It looked like the Chosen Ones were finally at the end of their miracle mile.
But Arfin hit a hook shot and Sherwood quickly added a driving jumper to pull within 4-3. Cottle, who entered the game a sub and left it a star, drilled two more long jumpers to pump the lead back to 6-3.
Again the Chosen ones followed their destiny. Goldstein nailed two more jumpers and Sherwood hit on another drive, sandwiched around yet another Cottle jumper, pulling the Chosen Ones to within 7-6.
A great no-look pass from C-Pal to a diving Moreno made it 8-6, but Arfin rallied his troops with a driving hook shot that scooped up and over Moreno’s long arms for 8-7. Cottle continued his outside barrage to make it 9-7, and Viva Gringos was within two points of a victory.
That was when the Chosen Ones lived up to their name with signature contributions from each player – another outside jumper from Goldstein, a pull-up banker from Dangerous Dave, and another driving hook shot by Arfin — to grab the lead at 10-9.
After all the pushing, shoving, sumo wrestling, grunting, banging, hacking, fouling and borderline assault that passed for defense all day, it was fitting that the winning shot in the Finals was a clean, text-book 18 foot elbow jumper by Goldstein that sealed the 11-9 victory.
But even as the Chosen Ones celebrated their victory, there was a lingering controversy because, well, this was Live Oak hoops and there’s always something to argue about. The Chosen Ones name had a double meaning that couldn’t be missed by players and fans alike. Whereas all the other teams had been created by a draft in which designated captains took turns picking players by their perceived abilities, an arrangement that led to team combinations that had never played together before, tournament organizer Goldstein decided that he alone could choose his own team and play with his usual teammates, Sherwood and Arfin.
That led to a lot of anonymous grumbling among the other teams about a double standard and team stacking. But even the complainers admitted that no one had picked the Chosen Ones as pre-tournament favorites. And Harry Lewis, a former tournament organizer, defended Goldstein’s decision to enter his own team rather than take part in the draft process like everyone else.
“Hey, Jeff put the tournament together so he can put his own team together,” Lewis said. “It’s not like they were stacked.”
Goldstein also dismissed the stacking charge: “Three Jewish guys playing basketball together is never a stacked team.”
Unless it’s on Yom Kippur, when miracles can happen.