Another season of recreational basketball has come to an end. Each Thursday night, from September to May, a bunch of people get together in a suburban Buffalo gym for some hoops. I've been playing at this particular location since 1989, which outside of the instructor makes me the veteran of the group. I'm the 50-year-old in the bunch. (In Barry Switzer's football book, he calls scoring 50 points on someone as running up "half-a-hundred." Hence the term in the title, even if it applies to age here.) Most of the others are in there 30's and 40's, although a few weeks ago I had to guard someone's son who checked in at about 16. I never thought I'd be playing this long -- late 30's, maybe -- but here I am. And it's still fun.
Bill Bradley once wrote that he liked to play basketball with people because it offered a great deal of insight into character. He's right. I'll tell you lots about personality after playing with someone for an hour. Is he willing to sacrifice for the greater good? Is winning at the top of his personal value list? Does he play with enthusiasm? (Change he to she when appropriate; we've had women at these games over the years who have fit in nicely.)
At this age, my strategy is simple: keep moving. Running as a hobby helps. As one person put it, "When you play once a week, the last thing you want to do is chase a guy around the court for more than two hours." You'd be surprised how often someone can get open merely by hustling. I never could create offensive opportunities on my own, and I still can't, but I can hit the open 18-footer. I can try to take care of the basketball, and I can work hard and help others on defense.
I do have a little secret when it comes to basketball. When it comes to the game, I'm practically a socialist.
The game has to be played right in order for me to enjoy it. That means, pass the ball around, hustle when possible, take good shots, don't basket-hang, etc. When the game is played that way, it takes on a new age feel to it. Everything is in balance.
There's nothing worse than running all the way down the court in order to gain a step on the man that's playing defense, only to see a teammate launch a 25-footer on the run that has no chance of going in. I used to play a lot with a friend who was a heck of a basketball player, and someone who was mighty dependable when it came time to taking the last shot. However, he was no fun to play with most of the time. I think he failed the category "plays well with others" when he was in elementary school, because despite many skills he couldn't utilize his teammates on the court.
One of the nicest moments of the year came when I played with a team filled with the right players. Gerald, Gary, Chris and I have been playing on Thursdays for some time, and sometimes we're on the same team. We picked up a fifth guy, a stranger who was a step below the rest of us, on this particular night. Everyone got the ball, everyone took good shots, everyone looked after teammates. We won every game. When the stranger went to pack up his stuff to go home, he said to us, "It was a pleasure playing with you guys."
Music to my ears.