I was trying to will them to go, but my feet didn’t seem to want to move at the pace I expected. Yet again, I was upset with myself. I’m not supposed to get old! I am supposed to live forever!
When I first started playing basketball, it was done as a novelty. I’m ill-suited in every sense to play the game that has obvious physical and mental biases. I’m not over or even close to 6 feet tall, there is no inherent quickness to my gait, and I have poor eyesight and bad hand-eye coordination. Why I’ve stayed in the game this long is a small mystery. Now to add to all of those issues I have to deal with the massive mountain that I perceive old age to be.
Back in high school, I stuck around the game to make myself somewhat relevant to my best friend at the time. We charted significantly different paths through school: I was the pseudo-nerd and he was the consummate jock. How our friendship survived that social turmoil I will never know, but in spite of the developing differences we hung out a lot. His being the starting point guard for the Savannah Hawks meant I was going to be playing basketball in some way shape or form growing up. Always being picked last and having no inherent skill didn’t stop me from participating because my modus operandi for all games was . . . pass the rock to Leo. This strategy had varying amounts of success, as there was a 50/50 chance he’d be on the other team. Strangely enough, I always had positive memories of playing basketball from that time. As a nerd, winning any physical challenge becomes a highlight of your life, and Leo made sure I won my fair share (even when he was on the opposing team).
Then there was college. Leo went on to UTECH, and I went to UWI — and that’s where the shock comedy of my basketball career started. Unbeknownst to me, I was suffering from an inflated sense of self-importance in the realm of basketball. There was no Leo to bail me out of the grand mistake of trying out for my hall of residence’s basketball team. My coach said I had a lot of heart, but that was the sum total of my skill set. I worked it to the fullest of its potential but still closed the season with 0 points to my name (even after I was drawn up for a wide-open shot on several plays).
Even after that debacle, I only moved basketball down a notch on my exercise roster. I was smitten, and there was no helping it. When the game is played the right way, you can’t help but be awestruck by the marriage of athleticism and intelligence in the great and gifted players. The ball being round helped a lot. There are the odd days when everything would just fall, in spite of your best efforts. You would just score. I was intoxicated by the swish of that net, the instant gratification gained from getting it right just once. So my love grew even when my skills didn’t.
Being a working lad now, I figured basketball would be my deliverance from this ever-growing paunch that seems unrelenting in spite of diet and weight training. That is what spurred me into actually entering the Business House basketball team for my current employer. OK, maybe the free shoes, jerseys and networking opportunities had something to do with it as well, but trust me, the paunch is the overriding factor. Fitness and age, however, betrayed me. I was a shadow of my former self, and we all know by now my former self wasn’t much. I should have known when donning the jersey revealed gray hairs in places you don’t normally see on basketballers.
I summoned the basketball gods in a herculean effort to grant my wishes, but they only stuck around for 5 minutes and 4 turnovers, after which I couldn’t get them on the prayer request line from the end of the bench. I think it was a coverage issue. Even in training, the split-second passing eluded me, and the usually reliable crossover and first step were replaced by twisted ankles and the ball going out of bounds. On layups, Beelzebub/Loki/Azazel took great pleasure in placing imaginary lids on the basket, ensuring that I would never invite family or friends to see me play for fear of embarrassment. At the end of the season I had a grand total of 4 points and 15 minutes playing time.
They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing multiple times expecting different results. If this is so, I am stark staring mad because I’ve been at basketball now for what seems like an eternity. It’s a labour of love that hasn’t borne the sorts of results I have wanted, but I’m still stuck trying. Why? Even after the missteps, missed shots and mishaps, I still love the game. When the wagon bears the fans of the Reggae Boyz or Team Jamaica in athletics, I secretly cheer in my little corner of the world for the unsung heroes of Jamaican basketball, e.g. Patrick Ewing, Ajani Williams, Jerome Jordan and Roy Hibbert. I stay inspired that as the consummate underdog, I will fight to get picked, fight to play and, in the end, show that in spite of the obstacles you can:
“Rise to the occasion, look at yourself den say yuh strong” — Miguel “Sizzla Kalonji” Collins