Ken Mink went back to college at age 73. That’s not particularly interesting until you realize that he also went out for the basketball team — and made it. He is believed to be the oldest collegiate basketball player in American history. He is my hero.
The story goes that Mink, who last played junior college ball in 1956, was shooting hoops in his driveway early in the fall of 2008 and told his wife, “I’ve still got it.” He enrolled at Roane State Community College in Tennessee and joined the basketball team. In early 2009, he sank two free throws in a game (see video here) to much national acclaim.
I’m not making comparisons, but Monday night I returned for what I believe may be my 22nd season of basketball at Hans Christian Anderson gym in south Minneapolis. That would not be too extraordinary if I had begun my career as, say, a 20-year-old, but in fact I didn’t hit the big time on that particular hardcourt until I was 33, in 1985. When I do the math, I figure that, between blowing out my knee in 1998 and battling some general ambivalence about the price of admission (the assorted bumps and bruises one collects in these games), I’ve missed probably five seasons since then.
But I’m glad to be back with knees intact, as a vintage 61-year-old. And, to be perfectly honest, it didn’t go too bad in the season opener. It was a little sloppy early on, as all the oldsters (I am not the only geezer; just the oldest) shook off the rust of the summer and fall, but things got a lot smoother before long and I was picking and rolling with the best of them and even knocking down a few mid-range jumpers.
What’s interesting, on the physical side of things, is how once you get moving in a game like this you don’t really want to stop. That’s because, when you get to my age, your muscles and joints very quickly start to stiffen up if you’re not moving them. I stretch out my calves, quads and hammies whenever we get a break during our two-hour run, but once you sit still for a few minutes, it’s pretty tough to get going again.
It’s especially tough once you’ve had an entire night’s sleep. Tuesday morning I rolled out of bed and felt like I’d been hit by a truck. It’s at these times when I’m thankful for the opportunity to climb on my bicycle (despite the return of December weather) and pedal across the river and up the hill to the office. By the time I sat down at my desk, I felt like maybe I can keep this hoops thing going for a few more years.
If Ken Mink can do it, why can’t I?