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My Saturday morning run

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Like many writers in their 40s, I don’t have an amazing social life.

I’ve got my wife, I’ve got my kids, I’ve got my friends, I’ve got nights working out at the gym, I have walks with the dog and chats on the phone and a whole bunch of DMs to myriad people. But, as I sit here in 2019, I don’t have a ton of hangout-esque things. It’s sorta the nature of my age, the nature of relocating to a new place (New York to SoCal), the nature of being a suburban dad, the nature of being a writer who works for himself.

But I do have Saturday mornings.

And they are awesome.

I learned of the games about 2 1/2 years ago, from the father of one of my daughter’s friends. He told me there was a weekly pickup run on the courts near the Starbucks. That the ages ranged from high school to some guys in their 60s, that the skill level went from mediocre to Division III bencher. So I went, and loved it.

And returned, and loved it.

And returned, and loved it.

And returned, and loved it.

I’ve probably played, oh, 60 times by now, and it brings me tremendous bliss. First, I simply love the rhythms of pickup. The sound of ball bouncing off court. The sneakers squeaking. People yelling, “I got him! I got him!” and “D! D!” Second, basketball is my favorite sport. Truly, my favorite sport. It’s an insanely terrific workout. It’s entertaining as fuck. It’s a challenge, and a challenge I can—at this level, at this age—hang with. And, truth be told, there’s not that big of a difference between Jeff Pearlman: Basketball Player at 25 and Jeff Pearlman: Basketball Player at 47. My back tightens a bit. I’m not quite as good a leaper (not that I was ever much of a leaper). But what I did then I do now—rebound, block shots, play tough defense on the opposing big man. I’ve made this point before, and I believe it: The dropoff for, oh, Shaq from 25 to 47 is enormous, because he was at the absolute highest point allowable. But folks like me were never there. I’m a hack. A good hack. But a hack nonetheless. Hacks at 25 and hacks at 47 are one and the same.

I think what I treasure most is the sense of community. I’d say, on average, 18 guys (and one woman) play, and you get to know them. Yes, their moves and on-court tendencies. But, really, you get to know who they are; what their lives feel like. It’s a lovely and diverse crew. Racially. Age-wise. Geographic. Mark is married to a retired flight attendant, and they travel all over for free. Russ was studying to be a priest, then stopped and now teaches high school religion. Bishop is a professional drummer. John is a college student. X will be attending the senior prom tonight. One dude sells pot for a living. Another makes sunglasses. There’s one guy I absolutely can’t stand (he likes to say, “That guy’s a Democrat!” as an insult), but otherwise they’re all cool. Plus, very few fouls are called. Rare are the arguments that go beyond 10 seconds. When someone gets hurt, the concern is real. When someone hits an insane shot, players on the other team will drop a compliment.

I’m not the best player, I’m not the worst.

I’m probably the most grateful.

PS: I recently was trying to guesstimate how many pickup games I’ve played in my life. It’s gotta be well over 1,000—and worth every second.

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