• Michael Rosen Michael Rosen
    • Investment Insights are written by Angeles' CIO Michael Rosen

      Michael has more than 30 years experience as an institutional portfolio manager, investment strategist, trader and academic.

    BASKETBALL IS LIFE

    Published: 10-28-2021

    The last commencement address I gave was in 1978. No one remembers what I said. I know this for three reasons:
    1. I don’t remember what I said
    2. No one remembers what any commencement speaker says
    3. I haven’t been invited to give another address in 43 years.

    My college hired a new basketball coach and he invited me to visit with the team to tell them about life after basketball. Being on a team in college is almost all-consuming, certainly a defining experience, and difficult to imagine a life afterwards. I couldn’t just recount my career path because no one would care or remember what I said. But in thinking about the topic, life after basketball, I realized that there really isn’t life after basketball. And that was my message to the team.

    I told them to look around. One of these guys will be their best friend for the rest of their lives. It may be hard to appreciate how valuable that is now, but over the next 40, 50, 60 years, you will see that as one of the most important things in life. It’s not wealth or accolades. Your health, your family and your friends are really the only things that matter. George was my best friend on the team, and he is still among my best friends. He was stricken with ALS twenty years ago, so it’s difficult to communicate with him frequently, but he is in my life every day.

    We all should have learned in kindergarten to be nice to each other, but we had an incident freshman year that brought this message home to me through a negative example. We were playing a Division 1 school (we were Division 3, the lowest level, and therefore should not have have been remotely competitive), ahead by one point with a minute to play, shooting the front end of a one-and-one (if you make the free throw you get another). We missed, they scored, we lost the game. We played our hearts out and nearly won, and as we shook hands with the other team, their coach said to our coach, “We should have won by 20 points, you’re lucky we let you stay in the game.” Not, “congratulations, you played a great game,” or “you played great, good luck with your season,” or anything close to polite. That coach went on to win national championships and is in the Hall of Fame, but I’ve never forgotten or forgiven him for his rudeness. But he taught me a lesson about treating people with respect and dignity, especially when you’re the one on top. You’re not going to win every game, but you can be polite and respectful every time. He wasn’t, and that taught me the lesson.

    A similar lesson on how to treat people came a few years later. I noticed that our coach yelled at some players, corrected some publicly, and spoke privately with others. I asked him why he didn’t approach everyone the same and he gave me his perspective. We carried 15 players and the starting five were content, because they were the starters. The bottom five were fine because they knew they weren’t as good as the starters and were happy just to be on the team. The middle five was where the challenge was…players who were not quite as good as the starting team, but perhaps thought they were. These were the ones requiring the most attention because a) they had the potential to contribute a lot to the team and b) they had the potential to be the most disruptive to the team’s cohesion. As I moved into a position of managing (I don’t dare say mentoring) people, thinking about the basketball team’s dynamics reminds me first to understand the perspective that each person has and to try to relate to them on that level. We all come with our own anxieties and aspirations and each is unique, and we need to meet them where they are.

    The final story I told the team was a game in which we were ahead by 20 points or more with a few minutes left. The coach took out the starters to give others some playing time. Each one on the team was probably a star at his high school, and their lack of playing time in college was likely a let down. One player who went in the game still thought he was a star. He took a pass at half court, took a few dribbles and launched the ball from 25 feet. There was no 3-point line back then, so a 25-foot shot did not make sense. But we were up by a lot and he thought he was a star. Swish, nothing but net. He strutted back with a big smile and the coach leaned over to me and said, “the worst thing that can happen to a bad shooter is he makes his first shot.“ I had no idea what he was talking about, but coach often said things that didn’t make sense to me until much later. The next time down the court, same thing, he got the ball at half court, took a few dribbles, and this time launched the ball from 30 feet. A brick off the backboard. Next time down, same thing, another brick, not even close. Coach just gave me a look, like, see? We evaluate investment ideas every day, we look at thousands every year. Every one of the pitches we get shows good prior performance. Our job is to try to separate skill from luck, in other words, are we looking at a bad shooter who made his first shot, or a truly skilled shooter. Whenever I see a new investment pitch, I think about that game.

    There is no life after basketball. The friendships and lessons learned never leave. There is nothing the team will, or should, remember about me. I just wanted them to know that amidst their day-to-day battles, lessons and friendships were being formed that will shape their lives.

    They cannot be expected to comprehend the profound impact these moments will have on their lives, but I can. We are all shaped by the people we meet, even by the lout, rude coach who couldn’t congratulate us on a good game. I am grateful to all of my teammates, but especially to George Mazareas, who inspires me every day, and to Coach John White, who taught me more than any professor and remains a friend today. There really is no such thing as life after basketball, and I am grateful for that. I don’t need to give another commencement address.

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