Hoops isn’t the same as it was in Chapel Hill; back then, there was a game every weekday except Friday, it would last for hours in the waning sun, and we were all playing really well. In August, the heat was inescapable, so we did the opposite we immersed ourselves in it, playing ball until we were drenched in the sweat of the person we were guarding. I made plays in those days that were truly impressive for someone who had started playing seriously at 19, a good ten years later than everyone else.
But that was before moving to Los Angeles, and now New York. Since 1997, I’ve been stuck in the once-a-week regular gig, with the occasional game scattered throughout the month. The “occasional games” might be at Chelsea Piers, sometimes with the guys in Astoria on the weekend, or some sort of pick-up game, but I know this: it’s not enough, god dammit.
The Monday night game in LA was actually the “Young Adult Night” at the Mormon church in Arcadia, a good 45 minutes away from where I was living in Hollywood. Mormons are generally good people, and missionaries are on a strict ascetic regimen, but god help you if you play them on their “P” or preparation day. It’s the day they can get all their ya-yas out, and in hoops, that manifests as fouls, hacks and muggings. It got to the point where I couldn’t play with the missionaries anymore; they had way too much pent-up rage.
The Thursday night game in New York is better, because most of us are old friends, but I have to say, I suck in there. Maybe it’s the lighting, maybe it’s the often-judgmental order-barking, maybe it’s because the other players never pass, maybe it’s because my fucking back has taken the sting out of my game but I can’t seem to find my game in that place. It’s a pity, too, because it’s the most Hoosiers-like basketball fantasy for the old-time purist you can get. Right in Soho on Mulberry Street, it’s the ancient St. Patrick’s Church, its cornerstone laid in 1809, the old gym a relic of bygone cagers. Weirdly, I have a lot more fun with Sean’s friends in Astoria, or just with the Chipper down in Chapel Hill.
Basketball has always been a metaphor for me, and these days I’m mostly feeling the impermanence of youth. Physically, I feel similar to the days when I was 22, but there are two things that are much harder to overcome the next day: liquor and hoops. Which is probably a good thing I’m not in Chapel Hill anymore, because the town is powered almost solely by those two elements.
Lindsay misses his free throw to get in the next game at the Mulberry Street Garden