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72 Training there’s a certain sound to a basketball gymnasium—or sounds, rather, that practically all gymnasiums share. It’s a controlled, if not hermetically sealed, environment. The ceilings above the lacquered hardwood floor are unusually high, both to accommodate the loft of desperate , long-range shots and to ensure a reasonably capacious stack of bleacher seating. The cavernous space, framed by hard surfaces, creates a unique acoustical effect. I suppose I could only appreciate this strange music after leaving the game for a time, for the sound is the first thing I notice upon reentering the gymnasium at Boca Raton High School after my extended hiatus. For a long while in south Florida, my athleticism on the wane, I had played in two local leagues and, more significantly, I had played “pick-up” each Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m. in this gym, and in its earlier dilapidated incarnation before the school’s recent renovation. This pick-up game had been, and continues to be, from what I understand, ultra-competitive yet good-spirited. Most of the players are superb athletes, African Americans , old friends from Atlantic High School in Delray Beach, one town to the north. Anthony, the vice-principal of Boca High, who happens to have an outrageous vertical leap, for years has reliably opened up the gym for his old friends, for some of his recently graduated students, and for newer friends like me. Still, after a string of dispiriting performances, I had decided once and for all to give up basketball about six months ago. The adult team I had played on had just been unceremoniously dispatched in the first round of playoffs in the local recreation center league. Basketball, a sport Training • 73 of quick bursts, is notoriously unkind to aging legs. Generally speaking, one’s basketball fitness declines precipitously at or before age thirty. To remain competitive into my mid-thirties, I had been forced to develop a fairly reliable three-point shot. But it was growing increasingly clear that my accuracy from beyond the arc could no longer compensate for those manifold creeping deficiencies plaguing my game. Quickness is all-important for a 2-guard (more so than for a post-player), and quickness had been my greatest weapon. Although I had never been much of a leaper, the combination of my lateral agility and hand speed had made me a pretty effective defender in my prime; at the offensive end, I was fleetof -foot enough that my first step almost invariably shed most opponents. Unfortunately, my quickness had been fairly ravaged by time. The team that had just schooled us was far younger and stronger. Their players jumped higher, sprinted faster, and defended more aggressively than us weary, Advil-popping veterans; they beat us to every loose ball and fairly cleaned up the boards. (Besides these factors, we had the clear advantage!) What particularly infuriated me about this loss was that our opponents weren’t truly hoops players. You could tell by the awkward manner with which they laid the ball up or cocked it back behind their heads, elbows akimbo, for an outside shot. A couple of them, during foul shots, scarcely knew where to stand around the key. They were just athletes . Football players, perhaps, in high school, only a couple years back for them. Worse, they were punks, who exhibited not the least bit of basketball etiquette. “Get that shit outta here!” a particularly burly opponent exclaimed after stuffing my lay-up in the paint. While a certain amount of trash-talking is permissible (if never my way), you can generally count upon restraint when the opposing team is up by twenty-five points or so. No, these weren’t ballers. They were adolescent morons, against whom our team would have put on a clinic had our legs been closer to thirty than forty years old. I knew immediately after the game—my face hot and red from some admixture of rage and exhaustion—that I couldn’t bear another such loss. To be sure, many peers in similar circumstances pursue options other than giving up the game. Less competitive leagues and pick-up games abound. The knee-brace circuit, as it were. I wouldn’t deny my friends any 74 • My Los Angeles in Black and (Almost) White pleasure they glean from such outlets. But for whatever reason, something inside me wouldn’t permit me to continue on in this fashion. My game had dissipated...


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MARC Record
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