One of the first activities we do in my first grade classroom is writing our hopes and dreams for the upcoming school year. Usually these goals are about specific school related challenges (getting better at reading, learning about crocodiles, making new friends) and they provide an entry point for talking about what we need to do, collectively, as a classroom community to make sure everyone’s needs are met. This past fall I was gifted with this gem:
“My hope is to find buried pirate gold on the playground.”
First graders don’t really do sarcasm or tongue-in-cheek humor. This little fellow really was dead set on spending his school year searching for the X that marks the spot. Among the slides, swings and other bizarre playground contraptions with secret names known only a mystic cabal of third graders, he was sure there was a worn and rotted chest, overflowing with gold doubloons. He had no ulterior motives, subversive or otherwise. He was simply asked a question about what he hoped to accomplish this year and he summarized his intentions, truly and honestly.
I share this anecdote because tomorrow evening is the 2014 NBA draft and there will be a few lost souls armed mostly with creative ambition and a treasure map designed by their scouting departments, searching for some damn gold doubloons.
The NBA draft is all about excitement (although I understand the trepidation of certain fanbases whose teams have a history of excitedly snatching up flaming bags of dog shit with their picks). The draft is a gift of talent with the added twist of each team getting to choose which package to open. Everyone (except the Knicks) is there to improve their team with the only limit being what you are able to find. Don’t screw it up and your team improves. Stick your shovel in the right patch of dirt and you could be set for life.
Teams pretend to enter the draft guided by a set of prescribed needs, holes to be filled, specific skills to be acquired. A GM may say they’re looking for an outside shooter who can adequately defend his position, but the truth is they’re looking for the pirate gold. They’re hoping to find it before anyone else does, a trove of riches vast enough to move men to tears and bend the very will of the Gods. Whatever facade is thrown across them, the guiding principles of the draft are not caution and scrutiny, they are creativity, ambition and imagination, as deep and as pure as it can be found on earth. The draft is the one night that everyone is reaching for the outlier, the one, The One. First you find him, then you ride the lightning.
The problem is, as my little first grader discovered, there is no buried pirate treasure on the playground. At least not at our tiny elementary school in rural Vermont. The depth and width of your hole are inconsequential, you’re not going to find much more than wood chips, earthworms and tree roots. And unfortunately, the same is true for the NBA draft. Once in a great while a team stumbles onto some treasure, fully-formed. But usually the treasure is a handful of old bottle caps with some battered nickels and pennies. There is a pay-off in there somewhere but it involves careful scrimping and saving, a profit that requires cultivation.
But that truth didn’t matter to my little treasure hunter, it certainly doesn’t matter to the starry-eyed NBA decision makers, and it definitely shouldn’t bother you either. Every day at recess was an adventure for my first grader. Every day could have been THE day, the one where he finally stumbled over that half-buried chest on his way to the swing set. And that’s the beauty of the draft. Chances are your favorite team is going to leave with a 1955 wheat penny, a shard of green glass and a broken rubber band. But you never, never know. This could be the year that they stumble over that buried treasure.
So for one night I encourage all of you to soak into childish imagination. Put on an eye-patch and indulge in a Sharpie-drawn handlebar moustache. Grab a shovel, a handle of dark rum and draw yourself a treasure map. This is your year.