All things considered—and furiously knocking on the closest wood possible—I think I’m in pretty good shape for a man of my advanced age (39).
I am not, however, in the shape I’d like to be in. Admittedly, this want to be in better shape is at least partially cosmetic. I want to have more stamina and better hops, and that want exists in concert with a want to look better in a tank top. Still, according to the young niggas I hoop with at LA Fitness and the YMCA, many of whom assumed I was in my late 20s until they learned I’m old enough to be their young uncle, I look and move pretty well for my age. Which could just be them having no fucking clue what 39 is supposed to look and move like, but I’ll take it!
Basketball is what is keeping me relatively youngish. I play multiple times a week, and I lament when work or social or family commitments prevent me from doing so. And I’m actually still good at it. Well, goodish. I am very good at some things and downright shitty at others.
Since I don’t have as much lift and I’m not as quick as I used to be, I’ve worked to extend the range on my jump shot to 27-ish feet. Because if you have good range, people have to guard you closer. And if people have to guard you closer—and have to remain cognizant of your ability to shoot—you have more room and space to get past them, making you seem quicker than you actually are. I’ve always been a good and willing passer, and that hasn’t changed. And while my handle isn’t as tight as it used to be, my ass is bigger and my forearms are thicker, and I use each one of my 205 pounds to inch and bump and move and uncle my way past people.
On the flip side, I struggle making layups in traffic now—particularly if I’m jumping off of my left foot—because my decreased lift means I can no longer go over people. I either have to trick them or go through them. Also, I play absolutely, positively no defense. I was never really a stopper before, but that was because of a lack of will. Now it’s a lack of ... everything else.
I mean, I’m smart enough to know where to be, and that combined with my strength allows me to play good positional D. But once someone does a good move—or, God forbid, a counter move—I am barbecue chicken. Oh, and I can still run pretty fast and move pretty quickly, but I can no longer stop on a dime, because that shit fucking hurts. I stop on a quarter now. Shit, I stop on a half dollar.
Anyway, a month or so ago, I was asked if I was interested in playing in an alumni basketball game featuring my high school (Penn Hills) and Wilkinsburg, the high school I taught at 15 years ago (and three of the kids I taught are playing in this game—I’m old!), and I agreed to play.
On paper, this is not a fair game. Including myself, we have five guys who played Division 1 basketball. And two who actually played professionally in Europe. Wilkinsburg doesn’t have any of either. But this game is not being played in 1999. I am no longer this guy:
I’m actually this guy now:
But none of us are “that guy” anymore. Which evens the stakes a bit. And when you add the fact that niggas are seriously treating this like it’s the Super Bowl—there are thousand-dollar bets on the game, sideline seats being auctioned off, actual arguments on Facebook about who did and didn’t make the rosters, etc.—who knows what the fuck is going to happen?
So why am I sharing this? Because the game is May 12. And if you’re the praying type, I want you to say one the night before for me and my knees. And also pray for whoever’s guarding me, ’cause they’re about to get that 39-year-old work.