Ken Minks was over 70-years-old and played against 18-year-old kids as a member of a community college basketball team. This guy is my role model.
“Will there be anyone there around my age,” I asked, knowing deep down that the answer would be no. I didn’t expect a slight chuckle when I got the answer, but I wasn’t really all that shocked.
I’m turning 36 later this year and I fully realize that I can no longer do the things I used to do as a kid. But later tonight, I might have to try and do exactly that when I step on the basketball court for the first time in about five years.
I’ve been finding excuses to avoid this moment for several weeks now. My close friend Brian has asked me to come back to Loreto Park – the old stomping grounds as old people like to say – to play basketball with the guys. But I have made other plans; my ride got sick and it will take me too long to get there by train; I have a meeting in the City; it’s too cold. These were the legit excuses I used for why I haven’t been able to make it, but I have no more left, because now it’s my future brother-in-law who has asked me to play ball. I have no other plans; they are playing until 9 p.m.; I have no meetings; and they are going to play in an indoor gym. Despite there being no excuses, I still initially balked at the idea when my fiance passed the message on to me. My trepidation was met with disappointing eyes. You know how that feels.
But it’s not that i don’t want to hang out with my friend or my future brother-in-law. That has nothing to do with it at all. The real fact of the matter is, I just don’t want to be “that guy” – the one who “used to be good”, but looks pathetic and out-of-shape today. I’m a strong believer in karma, and because I used to make fun of those guys, I can only assume others will do the same when I step on the court and look bad in my feeble attempts and recapturing my past glory.
Back in the day, I was pretty damn good playing basketball. I even remember my old high-school gym teacher Ms. Greene warning classmates not to allow me to shoot a jumper from the outside. I didn’t have any ball handle and I never even bothered to learn, because I could drain a jumper from anywhere. Why bother learning a dribble.
When I met my friends, Chris and Brian, at Loreto Park, all they played was basketball, so I did the same. We became a regular team and the everyday play, from morning to night, allowed my game to evolve. I perfected the tip-in off the rebound from almost anywhere on the court, studied Patrick Ewing’s drop step to make me unstoppable in the paint, and “gripping the archive for great sky hook” (that’s a Heavy D. and Notorious B.I.G. lyric not a grammar mistake). I could also shut the opposing offense down with a stifling defense.
The three of us began complementing each other so well, we went from losing every game to beating everyone on the court so bad, we drove them to play roller hockey (The Rangers winning the Stanley Cup in 1994 might have also had a hand in that). It became almost laughable how good we became and was especially true when we went up against these two older Italian guys who tried to relive their glory – one we would affectionately call Chess Master, because he literally challenged us to play chess after he realized basketball wasn’t his thing anymore. They both showed signs of what had once made them good, but they always end up looking worn out and beat up as we got to the end of the game. Their shirts became soaked with sweat and as they seemed to be doubling over in pain and trying to catch their breath, I turned to Brian and said, “I never want to be one of those guys who can’t let go,” and now here I am.
I know…it’s just a game of basketball, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. For me, it’s almost a test of my age and I am definitely feeling old. My jump shot has lost some of its arc; I’ve lost a lot of height on my jump; and I’m not expecting passes when I am on the inside with two defenders on me, because no one knows if I can handle a battle in the paint. If they play a full-court game, I’m expecting to become extremely out of breath. It’s not pretty - the cramps, the struggle to regain my breath – someone is going to joke that I need an oxygen mask (Why? Because that’s a joke I have literally used on others).
So, while the young kid inside of me is excited about getting my hands on the ball, the realist in me is dreading tonight like I dread blood tests and public speaking engagements. Tonight, I may discover just how old I really am.
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