By JORDAN IKEDA
Rafu Sports Editor
Sunday evening at the Los Angeles Athletic Club in the heart of Downtown former players, coaches (both peers and assistants), former athletic directors, school faculty, friends, family, media members, officials—a wide spectrum of people from all over the country—gathered together to pay tribute and celebrate a man that has influenced, changed and touched their lives.
David Yanai was honored with a dinner gala for not only his 28 years of exceptional coaching, but more notably for a lifetime of being himself.
“Even more indelible are the literally thousands of lives he’s touched coaching, and we’re all better people because of you David,” said ABC 7 sports guy, Rob Fukuzaki, who emceed the event.
The dinner gala featured keynote speaker UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, as well as former UCLA head coach and current ESPN analyst Steve Lavin and former Cal State Dominguez Hills NCAA Div. II male scholar athlete of the year John Nojima all gave a unique aspect to the scope of Coach Yanai’s influence.
“You are certainly deserving of this tribute because of what you’ve achieved,” Guerrero told Yanai at the end of his speech. “Not just what you achieved as a coach, but what you’ve achieved as a person…I’ve learned as much from you about those things that are important in life as anyone whom I’ve ever met.”
It was obvious from the diversity of those in attendance that Coach Yanai’s teaching extends far beyond the awards and accolades and success on the court. Despite the 401 wins, the pair of CCAA coach of the year awards, the NCAA Regional Coach of the Year award and the District Coach of the Year award, the true reward, according to Coach Yanai, was found in the players.
“‘The gift to a coach,’” Nojima said, quoting Coach Yanai’s own words, “‘the championships for a coach, are always the players. It’s not about the wins or the championships. You guys are the wins and you guys are the championships. And don’t you ever forget it.’”
When it was finally his turn to speak, Coach Yanai made his way to the front amidst a standing ovation.
“This is really like a Lou Gehrig moment,” he said as he took the podium. “I feel like the luckiest person alive. I should be on the other end thanking all of you folks.”
True to form and his word, exemplifying why so many people love and support him, Coach Yanai did his best to do just that, thanking each and every one in turn.
He was supposed to talk for 10 minutes, but ended up going nearly 40 thanking his wife Sae and acknowledging that she deserves as much credit for his success. Thanking Guerrero and sharing his wish for him to become the next NCAA president. Thanking Lavin for his friendship and the two-way street of teaching.
Sharing stories about players, like Nojima’s penchant to help tutor his teammates. Thanking all of his former players, staff trainers, assistant coaches, rival coaches, referees, friends, and family and even the media, like long time Rafu writer George “Horse” Yoshinaga.
He also made it a point to acknowledge and thank five mentors who helped shape and mold him. Frank Yanai, his brother who he said ran interference for him. Mas Fukai who got him excited about sports and formed the FOR club with him. Sho Nojima, John Nojima’s father, who was a calming and intellectual influence. And of course two legends of the game in John Wooden and Pete Newell who offered their own coaching guidance and teaching wisdom, much in the same manner that he does now to others.
The gala included a silent auction, an effort to raise the necessary funds to see through the vision of current CSUDH athletic director Pat Guillen, who envisioned barely a year ago the idea of honoring Coach Yanai with a scholarship in his name as well as that name being forever associated with the CSUDH basketball court.
That vision will be realized Jan. 9 with a special unveiling.
Sponsors who donated time, money and auction prizes included Steve Morikawa of American Honda, Nancy Matsui of American Airlines and long time Dave Yanai friend, Tetsu Tanimoto.
Lavin read an e-mail from Coach Yanai that really resounded throughout the entire evening and was a lesson that everyone in the room was able to take away and apply to their own lives.
The e-mail read, “Stevie, remember that time is the most important commodity you have. You can always make more money, but you can’t make more time. Once today is gone, it is gone forever. Always spend your time wisely.”
Everyone in attendance Sunday evening would agree that their choice to attend, much like Coach Yanai himself, was the epitome of wisdom.
For those who would like to donate to the Dave Yanai Scholarship Fund, visit www.gotoros.com/custompages/ yanai/giving.html or mail pledges to CSUDH Development Office: Dave Yanai Scholarship, 1000 E. Victoria St. Carson, CA 90747