Last Saturday, I played My first full-court basketball game in over seven years. A "Fathers vs. Coaches" game for the local basketball league, I'd been concerned about it since late June. I wanted to play so My son and nephews could see what I've been preaching in terms of playing the game, but years of inactivity preceded by a couple of decades' worth of strains, sprains and fractures--product mostly of an obsessively-competitive nature--had sapped the confidence of My earlier life.
As I practiced with the boys and added an extra day or two to My exercise routine, I could feel the strain. Physically, I couldn't do the things I once did. Mentally, I couldn't accept these very real limitations. And emotionally, I was--am--driven to do My very best. As gameday approached, the strain increased.
I spent hours applying ice to My left knee, then several more hours wrapping it in heat. I would fall asleep thinking about what I could do in the game, then fighting off the bitter disappointment that the list was so damned short. That Saturday, We got to to the court to the news that Our town's mayor, barely 49 years old, had died that dawn. One minute of silence that lasted 20 seconds and the games began.
My nephews played first and got beaten by 20. I told them to shrug it off, that they had done their best. The two Parents teams were organized, the Coaches team got set and after a coin flip to determine the order of play for the Parents, We won. My team would play first.
Later, I was told that the grandstand was buzzing...and it wasn't good for Us. The Parents team was surprisingly filled with several 40- and 50-somethings, pot-bellied grayhairs who'd last played maybe last century. The Coaches, mostly in their 20s, played weekly, if not daily. They were also taller, except for a 5-foot plug with the unlikely nickname of "Pili."
As We set up for the tipoff, I noticed Pili edging towards his basket. At the time, I hadn't heard him mouth off, saying he'd score the first basket of the game and be the star. All I knew was that he was trying to get a cheap early score. I shaded his way and waited for the tipoff.
Sure enough, the ball came to Pili and he turned towards his basket. I sprinted after him, knowing he hadn't noticed Me. One large step behind him, I jumped--he tried a layup--and I thunder-spanked the ball on My way down.
The grandstand erupted. The roar was explosive, viscerally unabashed and morphed into that crowd-based jumble of reactions that comes after sudden release. I was cool. I tracked down the ball, tossed it to a grinning ref and came back onto the court to play defense. My teammates were grinning, too. I knew what I'd done, but the game...the game... And yet, I did break into a grin when My cousin Luis came over and blurted out "That was fucking awesome!"
Three minutes later, I scored on a jumpshot, a free-flowing, comfortable shot that went down as so many others used to. The score at that point was 10-6, Coaches.
Half an hour later, as I rotated from guarding the ball-handler all the way down the court to the shooter on the far left side, lunging to block his shot, the whistle sounded. The game...the game...was over, and We'd lost 51-27. It wasn't as close as the score might indicate.
I scored 4 points, grabbed 2 rebounds, had one assist and two turnovers, playing almost 3/4 of the game. I focused on defense to try to stop the myriad scorers on the Coaches team. Pili had the last laugh, the game's high scorer with 12 points from behind the arc. And in the major buzz about the blocked shot, My best play--a backboard tip-pass off an errant alley-oop that came back via brilliant behind-the-back pass for a score--went unnoticed. C'est le jeu.
And what about My son and nephews, for whom I played the game to give them a chance to see how I played? They missed it all, intent on Nintendo and their own basketball doings. C'est la vie.
In the end, though winded 5 minutes into the game, My legs held up enough to apply full-court pressure as the final seconds ticked away. We lost, there's no getting around that; not for Me. And in the end, as people talked about the blocked shot and didn't even know it was Me they were talking about, I had to admit it: It was great.
It was great to do something in a game to make the audience turn to each other with a "Did you see that?" excitement on their faces. I haven't had an infinity of those moments, but I've had My fair share. I know I'll have more.
I really hope I do.
The Jenius Has Spoken.