So this morning, for the first time in 1 1/2 years, I returned to my local basketball court to play Saturday pickup.
I didn’t know what to expect. Truly, I didn’t. My last game was played in February 2020—a long stretch for a normal body, a loooooooong stretch for a guy approaching 50. As I’ve learned the hard way, bodies change, and morph, and tighten, and rust. Even pre-COVID, I often felt one fall away from it all coming to an end. A bruised hip. A dislocated shoulder. Mere bumps at 25. Basketball enders at 49.
Anyhow, I rolled up to the court at about 9:15 am. There were about seven or eight familiar faces. X—the chatty dude who works at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Ben, the recent high school grad. Kermit, 55 but looking about 40. I was greeted warmly—”What’s up?” and “Where you been?” More players started to trickle in. Full court began.
I felt home. Or sorta home. I have this one move, learned long ago from a University of Delaware pal named Dan Monaghan, that’s been my go-to for decades. It’s the world’s deadliest pump fake, and if you don’t know it’s coming, you can’t guard it. So, first time I had the ball, guarded by a kid who looked about 19, I stared briefly at the rim, began to shoot, hit my tippy toes—then, gone. He fell for the fake, and I drove untouched to the rim.
“Whoa,” someone said.
“The ol’ pump fake,” another added.
I told a friend earlier today: I can’t be what I was long ago. But, in a weird way, I’m aided by never having been much. Michael Jordan at 58 is a shell of Air Jordan. Shaq at 50 is fat and slow. I’m merely a more mediocre shadow of a mediocre player. I still know how to defend. I still box out. My hook is OK.
Best of all, I can look around and feel the sweat trickle down my forehead and hear the pounding of ball against cement and watch a shot rainbow thru the twine and appreciate that, in 2021, it’s still my world.
I’m still playing.