HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Day 2 of the Maui Invitational tipped off this morning and for one local vendor, the tournament has been a slam dunk.Rod Pa’ahana is the president of the Villages of Leiali’i - a Hawaiian homestead property that is near the Lahaina Civic Center. He uses his gift as a lei maker as do others from the local community to help fundraise money and and share the spirit of aloha with visitors to the islands.
"Well, we treat them the right way, the right meaning of the lei; it’s about aloha; love,” Pa’ahana said. “I take the money from the husband, the wife picks the lei, I give the husband the lei, now Hawaiian style: You give the lei over the head with a kiss and they all love it.”
Pa’ahana and his friends have been making and selling yarn leis outside the Lahaina Civic Center during the Maui Invitational for the last nine years. He knew he wanted to be involved in the tournament while raising money for his Hawaiian homestead community, so he told the tournament director he had an idea how to do so.
But it had nothing to do with making leis. "I suggested we park cars and she said, ‘Well, I already have a group parking cars ... but if you come up with a good idea, I’ll entertain it. And I said, ‘How about leis? You are in Hawaii, you need leis.'"
Fast forward nearly a decade later, and the Villages of Leali’i has made Maui Invitational -- an already intimate and unique environment for college basketball -- into something so much more.
Even during tense times inside the auditorium between teams, players and fans, the leis have created a friendlier environment at the tournament, allowing fans to interact with another by breaking the ice with their leis.
"Well, you know they are great folks,” said Auburn fan Dee Duncan of Georgia. “They are doing it for the community. I think we bought five."Pa'ahana said they make about 500 leis over the course of the three-day tournament.
“You think of a lei as being flowers, not whatever this is,” said Alison Kats, a Duke fan from North Carolina. “So I can appreciate something that’s locally made.”