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David and Goliath, and Guess Who Is Goliath?

In the spring of 1962 David fought Goliath for a state basketball championship. At that time in history, basketball was the only sport that really mattered. For many schools, football and hockey were simply too expensive. Soccer was some obscure game played halfway around the world and had little relevance for the typical urban kid like me.

But basketball was king and almost every player dreamed of playing in the NBA—although the odds of making it to the pros was about as good as winning the lottery twice in a day. But this championship game was different.

David was a small Catholic high school in the suburbs, which did not have a long basketball tradition. Goliath was an iconic inner city high school that was viewed as a farm team for a Division 1 scholarship. The school had decades of history and a godlike coach.

But now for the rest of the story.

The star player for David had set his state’s high school scoring record, averaging 50 points a game. He was essentially unstoppable one-on-one. In a scene right out of central casting for a Hollywood feel-good movie, the game went into overtime. With one second on the clock, David had the ball for one shot at stardom.

Everyone in the galaxy knew who would take that shot. “Jimmy” was the rock star who took the inbound pass, was crushed by the arms of three defenders, yet he twisted, pirouetted like a ballerina, and unleashed a twenty-foot shot that ripped through the net as time expired.

Pandemonium broke out, strangers embraced, and the tiny school triumphantly hoisted the sacred trophy. A Hollywood ending. But this was not the real ending.

Jimmy was a year behind me in high school, and we developed a close friendship. We never talked about basketball. But he did share with me his anxieties about his future. As expected, he was offered a full scholarship to one of the East Coast basketball powerhouses and, as expected, was an All-American for each of his four years.

He was drafted by the NBA but played much of his career in the American Basketball Association, an entertaining, fast-paced, high-scoring version of the NBA. Interestingly, they used a basketball that looked like the American flag. The players were good but not quite that good. It was not exactly prime time.

Over a ten-year period, Jimmy ricocheted off minor league teams and would occasionally would be brought up to the NBA. Again, not what Jimmy had expected.

At one of our high school reunions Jimmy and I reconnected. And he was at peace; he was in the sweet spot of life and was the CEO of a small sporting goods company. He was nostalgic, he was honest, and he was very satisfied that he had given his best shot and it was time to close that chapter of his basketball career. With grace and poise he moved on. He was sincerely okay with the way things had turned out.

So what does this have to do with COVID?

Although COVID really hit home in March 2020 when shelter in-place and stay-at-home became prominent in conjunction with repeated messages about social distancing, masks, and hand washing, let us be honest.

Most of us expected that by Easter and then by Memorial Day and surely by the Fourth of July and, no doubt, by September, this pandemic would be a distant memory. It would burn itself out and we would return to normal. We were assured by policy wonks and some medical experts that we would be just fine.

But we are not fine. The virus did not disappear. We are in worse shape than ever.

Let us get real. We will never return to the way it was. That spontaneous dinner with friends, that gathering in a cul-de-sac with neighbors, that impulse trip to a warm weather resort, that sporting event, that concert. These things will not occur in the foreseeable future.

Like Jimmy, we need to accept where we are. We need to embrace the present and recognize that the situation at some point will improve, but the good ole days will remain a distant memory.

Of course, there is the daily hope and promise of a safe and effective vaccine, but the logistics of administration and distribution and the approval process of health agencies can grind on. Most experts are suggesting that this vaccine will not be clinically available to vast segments of the population at least until the summer of 2021.

Like my friend Jimmy, we are David, resilient and strong. The Goliath of a virus will not take us down, but it’s winning the game right now. No long shots at the buzzer are going to change us overnight. Keep your eye on the goal.

Nostalgia and hoping for the good ole days are intoxicating potions but can consume an enormous amount of energy. The future belongs to the fit, the focused, those who are street smart and savvy and know how to take care of themselves. Be well, my friends.

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