One benefit of my job at National Deaf Academy is taking the patients to the gym over the weekend, where we’ll usually knock around shooting baskets for awhile.
There is nothing – nothing – that takes me back to my early years like playing basketball. The feel of the ball, the rhythm of dribbling, the sense of the shot as it leaves the hands, the satisfaction of a clean basket – it feels exactly the same now as it did then. Very few things in life remain so constant.
Back then my family lived a couple of blocks from Tarpon Springs Elementary and the basketball court there, where I often spent hours playing and practicing.
When the weather was good, there was a steady stream of people coming and going to play. I’d play one-on-one with anyone. Some were easy to beat, some were far better than I, and a few – the ones I enjoyed most – were really evenly matched. I’m a left-handed shooter, which gave me a distinct advantage over a lot of players, and I was getting taller – not quite the six feet I am now, but closing in on it.
Sometimes a thought strikes unbidden, a surprise, and one struck on a Saturday night as I was standing at the free throw line – if I could play now against my 12-year-old self, who would win? I laughed out loud at the idea…and after considering it, I do believe my 12-year-old self would kick my ass on the court.
My shooting then was refined by hours of practice, my speed was much better and my stamina on the court was certainly better. I weighed a good 50-70 lbs. less then, and my legs were probably as strong or nearly as strong as they are now. I could jump better, move faster, last longer.
About 5 years ago I broke my left shoulder in a biking accident. It healed up pretty well, but since then after I throw balls around for about 15 minutes, that shoulder starts to ache. There’s a subtle effect on my shooting, too. I can’t quite pin down how it’s different, but I can feel the difference when I shoot.
That’s ok – I have no ambition of being a ball player. It’s a kick to just get on court 35 years later and feel like I’m 12 again, even when I know perfectly well I’m not. It’s almost as if a basketball court is a personal time machine.
The world has changed in so many ways since I was a mop-headed lad with no greater worry than aiming a red, white and blue basketball at a hoop. The worries are more numerous and serious now, but give me a basketball and a court, and the worries seem to fade away. It’s nice to know there’s a place magical enough to make that happen.
Come to think of it, my stepson Dylan is now at exactly the same age I was when I was hanging around the court, looking for challengers. Can he beat me?
Bring it on…
[Originally published 11/18/2009]