The school is paid off, the insurance waivers signed, the newly needed liability insurance acquired, a nonprofit lined up to help with the bureaucratic headaches. That’s what I know. In other homes in upper Manhattans wills might have been updated. Old man basketball starts again this week. The calendar says it ends in late-May. Various tendons and ligaments might say otherwise.
This is my fifth year in this particular league and probably eight or nine guys have been with me during that time. Over the years people have moved or stopped playing but others have joined. I’ll keep playing as long as the jump shot and knees survive. The jumper probably has a longer life expectancy.
Casualties have already started. One longtime player injured his knee nearly two years ago now, a guy in his 50s who was still one of the better players. His knee never healed and he was actually unable to return to work. It’s the ultimate nightmare for all of us hanging on too long, even if that’s an extreme example of what can happen to weekend — or, in this case, Wednesday — warriors. Another veteran already emailed and said he tore his ACL playing soccer, a lesson to all of those who would ever play soccer. A friend of mine and an outstanding player sat with me at the Columbia football home opener last week — the Lions, if you were wondering and unaware of college football history, lost — and talked about his bad hamstring and groin and feels like something could snap at any moment. He’ll be there for the first week, but week two and beyond seems in doubt.
My own knee issue, diagnosed earlier this year as patellafemoral pain syndrome — kneecap pain my doctor said would go away with some physical therapy and weight loss — hasn’t been bothering me since hoops ended. I played a few times over the summer although never fullcourt. But then, in the past two weeks, the left knee started aching again, as if it knew I was days away from exposing it to a wooden floor and fullcourt action, to cuts and jumps, which even when done by a 38-year-old still fit the dictionary definition. Just when I feel spry, the knee twirls his baton and reminds me that no matter what I might have heard from the locals down at the saloon, he’s still in charge of this town. I’m confident some Advil and South African pain relieving cream — I’d explain the ingredients but they’re in a different language — will handle it.
They better work.
My uncle emailed last week and mentioned he’s back on the court, his own knee problems under control for now. He’s in his early 70s. He’s still good. I’m not asking my body to last that long — if I was, my body would talk back and rebel, get an earring and a face tattoo, ask me to eliminate the four sodas a day and start some type of multiday exercise program. I don’t need four more decades on the court, maybe just 10 more years and then I’ll transition to a halfcourt league where I’ll be the youngest player and plant myself in the post.
These past few days I’ve been getting more and more excited for the start of the year, overly excited for a pickup league filled with guys who are fellow has-beens or never-weres. But as much as I’m looking forward to playing basketball, it’s hit me that what would be even worse is simply not playing. In other words, the misery from not playing would be greater than the pleasure from playing. That shouldn’t be the ratio. It should still, even now, two weeks after my class held its 20th reunion and two years before my 40th birthday, be about getting on the court and enjoying the exercise, the competition and the sport itself. And I will. I will. There’s still nothing like hitting a 22-footer or a 10-foot turnaround. I enjoy making a great no-look pass as much today as I did when I was 10 and trying to imitate the move I just saw Magic make on a February afternoon against the Celtics.
But I also need to play because giving it up — whether that’s in two years or 30 — means giving up on something that’s been part of my life since I was 5. It means giving up on something I used to do really well and still do pretty well. So I welcome the beginning of our little league — because it means I fought off the end at least one more year.