So I’m in Mound, Minnesota working on a story for Bleacher Report, which means I’m:
A. Staying in a Days Inn with a moldy bathroom ceiling.
B. Freezing my ass off.
Out of kindness, my friend Sean Jensen invited me to play hoops this morning. Sean was an intern at The Tennessean when I worked for the newspaper, and in the years that followed he’s had a dazzling writing career that took him to Minnesota. Sean also knows that I’m a sucker for pickup.
“I’m in!” I replied.
Great. See you at 5:45 am.
So there I was this morning, inside the Hoops Academy in Hopkins, Minnesota (population: 18,105). I was groggy, I was red-eyed, I was in desperate need of more sleep …
And I got lit up.
Now, I could blame my public filleting on fatigue, but that’d be a very 25-year-old Jeff Pearlman thing to do. So, instead, I’ll just be honest and admit that I was playing way above my pay grade. Most Saturday mornings, you can find me at the local outdoor courts near my Southern California home, posting up down low, blocking shots, holding my own in very capable pickup games. This, however, was different level stuff, and I knew it the moment the short-haired skinny gunner on my team hit his first shot. Then his second. Then his third. And fourth. And fifth. These weren’t layups, but deep jumpers from the outer limits. He was introduced to me as “Neal,” but it turns out I was running alongside Neal Anderson, the former All-MIAC guard at the University of St. Thomas.
Neal is an insanely good player. He also served as a reminder that, in sports, there’s down here and there’s up there. What I mean is—I played briefly in high school, I played intramurals in college, I’ve probably been involved in, oh, 2,000 pickup games through the decades. I can hold my own in nearly all situations. Not star, but hold my own. Yet college players are college players, and even a decade removed from campus they almost always have that special something meat-and-potato guys like I lack.
So, instead of crying fatigue, or blaming my internal clock, or whining about an eternally sore back, I walked off the court and said, literally, “This was a step up.” I also accepted that fact that, suckiness be damned, I was in the midst of a kick-ass 1 1/2-hour workout. Which is legit currency in my world.
Then I had breakfast.