Old Man Hoops: Game One

Nov 26, 2012 by

 

I made my way through gymnasium’s double glass door entrance.  I heard the familiar sounds of shoes squeaking against hardwood floor and the echo of balls bouncing on the court.  I made a left through another set of doors and took a seat on a set of bleachers pulled out for the spectators.  I leaned back, stretched out my legs and watched the action before me.  I arrived early to ensure I had ample time to loosen up and look over the competition.

I watched the play from my bleacher seat.  Men were running up and down the floor throwing up an abundance of ill-advised shots.  I was twenty minutes away of embarking into similar game of my own.  Another season of ample turnovers, stagnant defense, and trading elbows with strangers.  All marked by extreme fatigue both during and after each game.  It then became apparent that I was the Brett Favre of church league basketball.  I tell everyone after the each league concludes since 2003, I am finished.  It’s time to pick up a new hobby.  The retirement press conference is typically held in the parking lot after the season’s final game.   With teammates gathered around our cars, I briefly thank everyone for a fun time and then I follow that up with a plea.  In the nicest of ways, I beg for them to abstain from asking me to join them in future leagues…ever again.  No one listens.

For the last half, I would stumble out of bed with pain and stiffness after a league game.  I would ingest tablets of ibuprofen like I was snacking on a bowl of peanuts at the bar.  I would often walk around stiff and upright, like fucking Frankenstein, due to sore knees and ankles or hunched over like a man in his late 80’s suffering from lower back pain.  Either way, I looked like an asshole around the office after the prior night’s contest.  This unsettling discomfort of aches and pains would last a day or two.  Week after week, the soreness cycle would repeat itself.

I would announce my retirement from recreational league hoops after the conclusion of every season since 2005.  However, I am still here tonight.  I now understand you, Brett.

How, at 38 years old, I accepted another invitation to play was easier this time around than years past.  I was offered a spot on a team in a 35 and over league.  Small court, running a 20 minute clock with a bunch of old dudes was all I needed to hear to say I was in.  It was an offer too tempting to turn down.

I stood up from the bleachers and began to stretch.  I now stretch for like 20 minutes.  (I am now that guy over on the sidelines young players snicker at-Think Woody Harrelson in White Men Can’t Jump)  The ball flew out-of-bounds from another turnover in the game.  I picked it up and passed it back to the yellow team’s point guard.  As I looked up to make my pass I noticed he looked a little younger than 35.  Actually he looked a lot younger than that –25 at best.  Fucking great, I muttered under my breath.  Why even have age restrictions if no one is going to follow them?  Fuck it, I’ve only ever played in the open divisions, I thought to myself.  Why would this league be any different?  Ego settled in and I was now at peace with it.  I ventured back out to the hallway in search of a bathroom.

In my search I noticed another gymnasium on the opposite side of the building.   I heard what sounded like a game going on.  My curiosity got the best of me, so I walked down to check it out.  I later learned that the gym I stumbled into was unofficially named the “Old Gym.”  The name “Old Gym” was apropos for two distinct reasons.  They are:

    • First the literal meaning.  The old gym is just that; decked out with side courts made of wooden backboards and non-breakaway rims.  The main court however is more in tune with gyms of the past 30 years or so – glass backboards, breakaway rims, and a painted high school three-point line.  I believe the gym was built in the 70’s.  This is where I belonged; all games were to be held here for the 35 and over league.
    • The second meaning pertains to the player’s ages.  Young guys played in the newer gym, old guys play in the ……well I am sure you get the point.  By the way, our very first game of the season was played on the shitty side court.  I had never witnessed so many missed jumpers in 40 minutes of play in my life; the rims were not by any stretch close to forgiving.  Iron.  Stiff.

I hadn’t shot a basketball in a year or so.  So I thought that since I had arrived early it might be best to shake out those cobwebs and shoot around some.  Within the first few minutes, I looked back at the game to check out the competition of the league.  Nothing stood out so I went back to my warm up.

Just before tipoff I was introduced to my new teammates.  Some I knew from prior leagues.  There is always the guy who assembled the team, so he becomes “coach” or “leader” or really just the person regulated to tell us what defensive to play, collect cash for the league entry fee and pass out schedules.  It’s a natural position fit due to the fact he actually took the time to gather us all together.

The first game always has its’ uneasy moments, especially when figuring who starts the game.  Eight or nine guys stand around the bench waiting for some PA announcement.  It’s even more nerve racking for the guy who put this team together to pick the starting five since he doesn’t want to offend anyone.  So what I do these days is just walk out on the floor and name myself the starter.  I find that this works a lot easier.

From a spectators viewpoint, here is the best way to explain what the action on the court of an over 35 league looks like.  It’s like watching the 1984 version of Rusty Staub (Basically a 40 year old slow fat guy) run out a ground ball hit to an infielder.  There is an inordinate amount of energy exerted characterized by a strong will, some might call this hustle.   However, the amount of energy used in no way indicates a positive end result.  Old guy running is neither effective nor fluid.  In the case of Mr. Staub, the ball smacks into the first baseman’s glove well before Rusty has made it halfway down the line to first.   It’s a mess out there on the court.  You are best off staying clear of a gym that hosts a like league.  If a friend, husband, boyfriend or father asks for you to come out and watch; politely refuse.

Men who grew up playing organized sports, especially those who experienced success in high school or college have a blurred sense of reality.  The only aspect of the game not rotted due to age is the mind.  All past physical attributes from their youth are nonexistent.  The acceptance of this notion is blocked by ego. Therefore, what you get when ten men collaborate on a basketball court is anger, heavy breathing, 2-3 Zone defenses and a slew of turnovers.

After 40 minutes of really disgusting basketball, I looked up at the scoreboard and we came out on the short end, losing by three points.  I guess that’s expected when your team shoots 0-15 in a 10 minute stretch in the second half, then follow that up with quite possibly 30 plus turnovers. (I am being conservative with that number.)   The worst part is after the first game you feel like complete shit.  Heavy breathing, achy joints, and recalling how ridiculously awkward it felt out there playing.  Still feeling light headed twenty minutes after the final buzzer had sounded, you’re glad it’s over but strangely excited for next week’s game.

I left the gym with a pair of sea legs and questioning my motives these days.  I could not have arrived home sooner to begin my non-prescribed medicinal treatments…

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Check back next week for the second installment of Old Man Hoops.  I return to the gym for game two of the season.  Upon the start of the game we were left in a quandary when only four players showed up on the other team, we begin brainstorming ideas on how to turn this negative into a positive…Looking back, our solution was suspect at best.

 

 

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