old sour


People who have been reading this blog know how much basketball means to me, as a vague historian, as a religious spectator, and as an occasionally-quite-angry player. I’ve actually played on blacktops in pickup games all across the country, especially when I was back on the book tours, and learned to deal with every kind of random ballplayer. I’m probably at my best behavior when I don’t know any of my teammates, which means the Thursday night crew at Mulberry Street Garden has had to endure my psychotic rantings for most of this decade.

Here in LA, though, I try to get through with two basic skill sets: I’m pretty accurate from long range, and my interior passing is formidable. As I have aged, and no longer feel like taking the rock to the rack as often, it is nice to know I have a few things left in the arsenal before I have to give up the game in the year 2067.

It doesn’t mean I’m not a little scared of getting older. I will be reaching a pretty huge milestone age in about eight months (along with the rest of you, Salem, Bud, Jon, Chip, etc.) and now when I play really well, I have the added joy of knowing I did so as a quasi-“old guy.”

My dear friend, the excellent writer Mark Rizzo, plays hoops with me when his ankle is doing well, and we decided to do some drills at the YMCA last night. A couple of kids were at the next basket, so after a half-hour of boring warm-ups, we went ahead and challenged them to 2-on-2.

These kids were good, they could dribble like crazy and were fast. Mark and I were joking around, so we lost the first game 11-4. We laughed it off, then tentatively asked for another. They weren’t going to do it, because they thought we were no competition, but Mark and I silently agreed we’d actually try this time. Five minutes later, we’d destroyed them, 11-2. Now they were a little upset.

You always have to play a rubber match, and this is where the world was supposed to right itself, and we’d lose. But the thing is, Mark and I are pretty good. Still. We came at them hard, pulled a few tricks out of the back pocket (Thursday ballers, you can guess which ones) and nailed them 11-8.

Three things came to mind:

1) Kids today have a LOT OF WASTED MOTION. You dribble and dribble, but you aren’t going anywhere. I’ll give you space so that you don’t drive, which leaves you open for a nine-foot jumper, but YOU CAN’T HIT IT! I’m giving you the key to the game, and you won’t use it. Learn the short jumper and you will probably beat us.

2) I was guarding a player who was twenty-three years younger than me. Think about that for a second.

3) GODDAMN that felt good.

0 thoughts on “old sour

  1. Matt

    John, I love those Charlie Murphy stories.
    Ian’s thesis today transcends basketball (probably sports altogether) and is true for hockey, too. The kids are much faster and can stick handle like mad, but they rarely pass and play position. If they ever learned to do those things, I might have to retire from my huff ‘n’ puff league.

  2. Zel M.

    My dear Ian, in a YMCA gym in LA, you have a microcosm of the state of American basketball and why we have started struggling on the world stage, such as the FIBA championships and the Olympics.
    As for the story of youth vs. wile, and the inherent symbolism thereof, well, I’m just not feeling that deep today.

  3. GFWD

    A few questions before I offer my praise to the older kids for beating the younger ones:
    1. Did you serve them pancakes after said victory?
    2. Physically speaking, were they your equal or superior, i.e.–were you picking on a couple of 5’6″ 16 year olds, or were they your height?
    3. Were they girls? Not to demean the sexes, but if it took you three games to decisively close the door on two teenage girls, then you should retire YESTERDAY. (Breathe easy there, Claudia. I’m not trying to spark a debate between men and women in sports.)
    4. In your mind’s eye, did you imagine the player you were guarding to be Wojo? If so, that explains why you were able to win.
    5. When the games were all said and done, did you require oxygen?

  4. Zach

    I, too, have played many a playground game all over the place and, as the skinny white guy, I usually get picked close to last (a big mistake). Anyway, I was playing at the courts across from my old house in downtown Wilmington and these teenagers asked me if I wanted to get in their three-on-three game. I agreed and immediately the tallest of them gets up in my face with a snarling “we gonna crush y’all.” Humored but now more serious than ever, I get in my defensive crouch as this kids tries to replicate all the moves he’s seen on ESPN’s “Streetball,” trying to bounce the ball off my head (which didn’t work. I got the steal.) and generally humiliate me. The kid was quick, fast and had a decent handle but he couldn’t make a layup after he managed to get past me. 60 seconds of B.S. dribbling with no real chance of scoring. After one or two times letting him get by, I decided that not only was he not going to score on me, I wasn’t going to let him get a shot off. I told him this and he snickered. I then but the bloody clamp down on him, playing defense super-aggressively, so much so that he began to complaing that I wasn’t letting him get the ball. I told him if he wanted it to go and get it. That made it worse as he began to call ticky-tack fouls and pout the whole game. He didn’t score and only managed to heave up a couple of lame fadeaways while I managed to pack him three times, once sending the ball over the fence as he tried to hit a reverse layup.
    The sad thing is that kids today learn to talk trash before they learn to dribble. They run their mouths constantly and every little wobble on your part is lauded as a victory whether they score or not. They have no fundamentals, no sportsmanship and no class. When did form become so prevalent over function?

  5. GFWD

    Claudia, The pancake reference is from the Dave Chappelle Show link that John Schultz sent.
    The kids today need some good old fashion basketball coaching from Norman Dale. Or Coach Carter.
    BEM, nothing newsworthy going on here. Mel Gibson’s daughter is marrying some country western singer and we’ve discovered that there is a batch of killer spinach spreading across 21 states. Damn you, Popeye!

  6. Beth

    BEM, I don’t know what you have access to or don’t–this is the news on Yahoo’s front page:
    Thai commander takes over after coup By GRANT PECK, Associated Press Writer
    5 minutes ago
    BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand’s army commmander ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a military coup Tuesday night while the prime minister was in New York, circling his offices with tanks, declaring martial law and revoking the constitution.
    An announcement on national television signed by army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin ordered all troops to report to their duty stations.
    As soldiers and armored vehicles moved through Bangkok, an announcement from the military earlier declared a provisional authority loyal to beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
    The announcement declared that a “Council of Administrative Reform” had seized power in Bangkok and nearby provinces without any resistance. It recognized the king as head of state.
    Is there any other website we can check for you? Please keep us posted!

  7. wottop

    You are so right about the nine footer. The kids that are good enought to play college ball don’t work on the 9 footer either. They must hit the three or dunk. You don’t get on ESPN hitting a 9 footer.
    It has all become how to make a highlight play every tenth time rather than play well every time.
    Look at Lavar Arrington. He is out of position on half the plays and misses the tackle on half of the ones he gets right. He flattens a guy one or two times a game and that makes him a pro-bowl player.
    I watch ESPN every day, but it is making sports on every level devoid of fundamentals and good sportsmanship.

  8. kevin from NC

    “wazzup with the bad spinach?!”
    At this point, I am not sure if anyone knows with certainty that spinach is the culprit. This may be a very interesting story after we find out everything. One has to wonder about the safety of our food supply chain.


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