I’m not old as far as life expectancies go, but I am at an age where I should consider trading in my high tops for speed walking shoes. I love basketball and mentally keeping up with the young guys on the court is no challenge, but my body doesn’t seem to want to follow suit. However, I can’t quite shake that desire to feel the euphoria that comes from a great game of hoops.
As a kid I moved around a lot. And as a child of a single parent, I got used to being alone. Basketball quite often became my companion whether I was playing Knock Out in Redmond, Wa.; 21 in Grapevine, Texas; or Pick-Up in the Ahwatukee Foothills of Phoenix; I was never alone in that sense.
Sometimes I would spend hours by myself at night in local parks working on my turn-around jump shot or free throws. That alone time was some of my most quality time. It was never about getting better at basketball. That was a side effect. It was an existential act where I could get lost in meditation. It was a soothing high then and one I still crave.
Last night I was able to get my fix as I participated in one of the most competitive basketball games I’ve been a part of in years.
I entered a the local basketball league here on Joint Base Balad a few weeks ago. Since we are on an air base, there is a mix of both Army and Air Force teams. My team is pretty competitive, although we lost our first game by three. It was our first time playing together, which is never a good way to start off if you want to win. Regardless, we’ve won every game since and the team that we faced last night was the pride of the Air Force squads, and one that we were encouraged to take seriously.
They were no joke. After wining the tip, they scored 8 consecutive unanswered points. We were dizzy trying to keep up. We were frazzled after the first 3 minutes. Their defense picked us off right and left as we scrambled to find our groove. It wasn’t until a fast break two-point conversion by one of our point guards that we were able to reset our emotions. 8-2, Air Force over Army; game on.
I slipped into aggressive mode with this newly won confidence. I know that I won’t be on the court too long. We have too much talent, and I’m not 19 anymore. I drew two fouls quickly, but in doing so I shook their confidence to score inside, and I also managed to convert on offense both scoring and with assists. One euphoric high coming up.
When I eventually took the bench with a score gap of two, I could see that it wasn’t just me that was feeling good. As I watched both teams go back and fourth, it was competition at its best. The commitment of all of these players to the stylized joust was like watching dueling ballerinas with the spinning drives and the drop-step layups. Even egotistical one-on-one challenges resembled a pax de deux. This was not about achievement. It was about the moment as players pushed each other to their performance peaks.
After the game, everyone gave their respects to the other teams and the celebratory high-fives to each other. It was a glorious victory for our team, but one that will be forgotten the next time we step on the court.
I recently ran into a guy my age at the chow hall that I play pick up with regularly. He was walking with a limp.
“Why don’t you go to the doctor or take some time off,” I asked.
“I tried,” he said as he hobbled away, “but I can’t.
“It’s the love for the game.”