Tales of the over-ripe athlete

The ball was over-inflated and under-used, but that wasn’t the real issue.
The real reason I was dribbling like my hands were shot-up with Novocain then stuffed into oversized gloves was because I’m well past my basketball prime.
On defense I was about as useful as a BB stopping a charging grizzly.
When you’re in high school you can function on a diet of Skittles and french fries, but if you’re 32 and have been eating mass-prepared food and get to the point where walking is your exercise for the day, you’re not exactly in optimal working form.
I don’t drink soda, never smoked and was in a nice little workout routine until life happened. Then everything became happy-hour tacos and reading books. Needless to say my game has suffered.
The life of a City League basketball player is a funny one. When I was in high school alumni would come scrimmage us like they just watched Karate Kid. Sweep the leg. Attack the xiphoid process if you get the chance. Toughen these kids up and dare them to call a foul.
Rob Jackson would get rumbling down court like Charles Barkley and had a spin move that every kid on my team knew was coming but few were willing to try and stop. Those who did ended up on the floor and he’d still call a block.
Sam Peters is 6-foot-7 and replaced his vertical leap with craftiness and punishing physicality. I remember those guys. I can’t believe I’m one of them now.
There’s a part of you that tries to deny it, and whispers “you’ve still got game”. But the reality is that you have game within that context once the life of a bona fide basketball team member ends.
At the rec center at the University of Arizona, there were four courts: A, B, C and on the other side of the curtain was the court where the castoffs played. The courts were your gauge.
I wanted the A court because at 19, even though you’re in college you think you can still hang.  You do things like try and challenge every shot in order to impress the coach who isn’t there. After you do that, you realize the shot you just tried to challenge was a dunk shot, and the player was Gilbert Arenas. No one cares what you once did, everyone is just happy you were dumb enough to get in the way of an All-American with a running start. That’s the only time I’ve been dunked on.
Now, a bunch of years later my lungs feel like they’re bleeding. Running distance with an iPod is not at all like sprinting up the court after a guy you know has to be suffering too, so you just have to stay with it and hope he cracks first.
The thing is after a while you don’t realize what you look like. You’d like to think you’re boxing out, playing defense and making the same type of winning plays that you did once upon a time, but the reality is that you’re slow, you get only the rebounds that come to you, and you downshift to second gear, or even first whenever there is an opportunity.
After I made a beautiful glory-days reverse layup Sunday I turned to head up court and turned my ankle and fell to the floor.
No one showed concern. Everyone laughed. Thankfully I sprained my right ankle so bad in college that it rolls all the way over so I only hurt it when the actual ankle bone is bruised by striking the floor.
That’s where I’m at.
I’m a City League role player. During a game a month ago, I dove for a guy attempting a layup because 98 percent of humans who do a layup swing the ball to their inside hip before going up. My outstretched arm knocked the ball from his hands and off his leg out of bounds, but the ref called foul. He’d never seen anyone make a play like that, because why would any 31-year-old completely layout on a relatively meaningless layup in a City League regular season game?
Idiots do, and my shoulder hasn’t been the same since. I’d like to say that I’d do it again in a heartbeat because I love the game, but no. I wouldn’t. I want my pre- terrible-call-shoulder back.
Had this been my casting shoulder I’d probably be inconsolable.

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