Thug Hoops

Photo on 3-25-15 at 1.57 PM

Last night I went down to the ol’ 24 Hour Fitness to play basketball.

Actually, I went there to do some stair machine and weights. But when I peeked in the gym, there was activity. And—bad back, crappy feet, wounded knees and all—I remain a sucker for hoops. Even at 42, when most of my friends seem to have retreated for the golf course.

Anyhow, I was roped into a three-on-three game. It was an odd mix. My team was a kid, probably 18, with some OK moves and a quick first step; a woman, probably 21, who could flat-out play and juked the hell out of people (I’m thinking she’s on some local college team; not DI, but certainly DII skills); and me. The other squad was a tall, skinny guy with long arms and a mop of blond hair. He was, oh, 28ish. There was a short, stocky guy, a little younger. And then there was the kid I wound up guarding. He was about 20, and an annoying gnat.

I don’t write the words “annoying gnat” kindly. It was nonstop jabber with this one, only the jabber was neither creative not interesting. I remember, back after my sophomore year in college, playing pickup on an outdoor court in Urbana, Illinois, and this guy (probably irked by my propensity to hack) repeatedly saying to me, “Why you gotta be a bitch?” I respected that, because it was fluid and a little funny and perfectly suited to hoop yapping. Back in Nashville, when I’d play at the downtown YMCA, there was a massive amount of chatter, also usually in the, “Shit, man, your vagina smells like tuna” sorta realm. Again, I’m cool with that. Funny, nasty, oddly befitting the scene.

With gnat boy, however, it was just one long headache of nonsense. “Ha! Nice shot!” he’d say, sarcastically, after someone missed. Or, “Good one!” if an opponent screwed up a pass. He was nonstop giggling, laughing, taunting people—but, again, it just irked the living hell out of me. If you’re gonna sling shit, at least bring the originality.

So I intentionally forearmed him in the chest. Hard.

We were going for a rebound, and I took my right arm and just—POP!—sent him back a few feet. It felt amazing, and the kid was, clearly, stunned. I mean, it couldn’t have hurt too much. But it was a bit out of context. Here he was, laughing at people, having a gay ol’ time … BAM! To his credit, he didn’t call a foul. But he did stop the giggling. Which was beautiful.

It also reinforced something I’ve come to learn as an older pickup hoops player. There’s a weird element to age that can prove quite intimidating. When you’re 20, playing against other 20-year-olds, it feels natural to sling yang. But how do you respond to a man who, biologically, could be your dad? A man who is clearly irked and pissed? Do you challenge him to a fight? Do you argue? Or do you put your head down and just go about life?

It’s weird, and—admittedly—somewhat dickish. But I’m digging my new power.