The other day, I stumbled upon what I now realize is a rather popular TV commercial for some brand of soda (commercials are so interesting now that I seldom remember what they’re selling). The spot features a couple of professional basketball players made up to look like they’re well past their prime: gray hair, wrinkles, the whole deal. These guys then drive out to some playground basketball court, where they somehow get into a game and eventually wow the young bucks with their superlative hoops skills. (You can see the spot here and judge for yourself.)
This, of course, is fantasy and should be labeled as such (“Do not try this at home”). I’ve dabbled enough in playground ball over the years to know that (1) the chances that somebody my age would even get on the court are slim and none, and (2) even if a geezer did have some chops, the chance that anyone would actually pass him the ball are similarly remote. It’s just the way it is.
That’s why I love my Monday nights in the Anderson School gym, where me and a group of similarly obsessed guys have been gathering since 1985 for a couple of hours of reckless hoops action. We’ve been doing this for so long that some of the offspring of the original crew are now blowing by us for easy layups or rising above our feeble defense for little floaters in the lane. But it’s all good, because every once in a while we’ll execute a perfect old-school pick-and-roll that will leave the youngsters shaking their heads as they bring the ball up court or one of us will actually hit that spot-up jumper from 18 feet they’ve been giving you all night and they’ll have to start guarding you next time up the floor.
There used to be plenty of trash-talking in the old days, but that’s mostly disappeared over the years. If you can’t back up the talk with some sweet moves, it’s better to just shut up and play.
And that’s what I try to do these days. Last Monday, for example, I showed up to discover that only a couple of my old teammates were on hand, surrounded by a small army of teens and 20-somethings, kids with so much energy that I get tired just watching them warm up.
In the early games, that energy dominates, but throughout the course of the evening, the young guys lose focus, get frustrated when their shots don’t fall, and stop getting back on defense. This is when the old guys begin to emerge, making the right pass, cutting to the open space for the easy shot, playing the passing lanes and coming up with steals. Toward the end of the night, I grab a rebound and go coast-to-coast for a lay-up, come up with a loose ball and bank in a mid-range jumper, drive the lane and dish to my cutting teammate for an easy bucket. “Uncle Drew” I am not. No dunking, no killer-crossover, nothing to elicit an “ooh” or an “aah”. But we win the last game and, walking back to the sidelines to grab my gear, one of those 20-somethings offers his fist for a bump. “Good game,” he says.
That’s as good as it gets.