Life Style

Perspective | How to be an effective oldhead on the hoop court

1. Take every opportunity to tell your fellow hoopers exactly how old you are

The official threshold for “oldhead on the hoop court” status, according to me, is someone at least 15 years older than the average age of the rest of the players. I am 43, and I often play basketball with men in their 20s — some as young as 18. Unfortunately, oldhead status doesn’t matter — doesn’t even exist — unless they know you’re an oldhead. So, tell them.

Sometimes this happens without much effort, like the time last month I noticed that one of the guys on my team looked familiar, but in a non-basketball context.

Me: “Hey, man. What’s your name?”

Me: “Thought so. I know your mom!”

Citing someone’s mom during a pickup basketball game is usually an invite for an elbow to your spleen. Sensing his confusion, I quickly followed: “Yeah … we were on the same board together. I recognized you from her Instagram. She’s very proud of you!”

Awkward? Yes. But effortlessly awkward.

If no organic opportunity exists, create one. Let’s say for instance you pull off an intricate double-crossover sequence that leads to a spectacular basket. Instead of your perfunctory, garden-variety s— talking (“You can’t guard me,” “You’re too small,” “Your knees look like lettuce,” etc.), tell the guy checking you that he just got “fried by someone seven years away from AARP.”

And then if he says “AARP? What’s that?” you can say “Just watch the commercials during ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ ” Not the most natural hoops discourse, but it’s effective.

You do this so that they have reasonable expectations for you. Which is another way of saying that it allows you to avoid difficult tasks and assignments. No, I am not taking that charge or diving on the floor for that loose ball. I have to work tomorrow, man. And I take lisinopril.

Excessive hustle is for Gen-Z hips and knees, not mine. No, I am not guarding the 21-year-old current college ballplayer who’s home for summer break and jumps as quickly as he blinks. You take LeBron, and I’ll take the 27-year-old accountant with the slight beer gut who was the eighth man on his high school team.

But mostly it just feels good. It feels good to witness their awe when they first realize your age and say something like: “Man … I thought you were like 30.” And if beaten by someone considerably younger, it feels great for your ego to think it wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago: “You should’ve seen me at 21. I was really something.” I actually said that to a 21-year-old three weeks ago, while I was too enchanted with nostalgia to notice he was wearing AirPods.

2. Make certain you’re on a good team

When playing AAU summer basketball in high school, there were days I’d wake up at 8:45 a.m. for a 9:15 a.m. game. After the game, I’d stuff some Wendy’s spicy nuggets and fries in my face. And then I’d play another game at 1 p.m. After that game, I’d play PlayStation at the hotel while eating six increasingly greasy slices of pizza. Then I’d make an extensive bathroom visit. And then I’d play another game at 4:30 p.m.

Now, if I’m planning to play pickup basketball Saturday at 7 a.m., I’m going to bed at 10 p.m. the night before. I’m getting up at 5:45 a.m. to eat an apple (for fiber) and some Cheerios (for more fiber — can never have enough fiber). I’m taking a scalding hot shower to loosen my joints. I’m packing my knee brace, my compression pants and my arch support insoles. I’m pregaming with Gatorade and Advil. When I get to the gym, I’m stretching, jumping rope, and taking myself through a laborious routine where I move like a freshly undead mummy while I shoot dozens of layups and foul shots.

Each pickup game as an oldhead is an exercise in mortality assessment.

And then — and this is the most important step — it’s paramount that I’m on a good team. Not just because I want to win, but because I need to. The first game or two is still a warm-up. If I try to move too suddenly it feels like I’ll rupture my sphincter. (Can you rupture a sphincter?) So, I need to be on a team good enough to win two games with minimal contribution from me, so that we can keep playing and I can finally be myself by Game 3.

3. Act your age

Long gone are the days when I could do the following things: Sprint, stop on a dime, and sprint again. Rebound in heavy traffic. Dunk. Guard more than two moves. Jump more than five inches off my left leg. Eat Wendy’s Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers before games. Be the best player on the court with 21-year-old hoopers.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to adjust my game so that I can still be effective. Maybe I can’t blow past people and get to the rim as easily, but I can still shoot. Maybe I can’t finish above traffic anymore, but I’m wily enough to dip into my reservoir of Uncle Strength and sometimes power through it.

Each pickup game as an oldhead is an exercise in mortality assessment — both a celebration of the privilege of still being spry enough to play and an interrogation of whether you’ve accepted what you just can’t do anymore. The men my age and older who are still able to play — and be effective — are mavens of adjustment. They’re nimble and malleable. You don’t want to be the 40-something egomaniac trying moves he hasn’t done since season two of “The Wire.” That’s how you stub fingers, tear hamstrings, alienate teammates and, most important, lose games. And when you lose, you have to sit and wait, your muscles atrophying. And then you are useless (and lose) again. Which matters because Wendy’s is my treat to myself if I win a bunch of games, and I’ll strangle my ego (and yours) for four spicy nuggets

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button