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.