For some guys over 40 it’s a Porsche. For me it’s hoops. I’ve been a basketball junkie ever since I graduated from high school and a late growth spurt shot me up from five-eleven to six-three and added 50 pounds to my gangly frame. From 1981 until today, barring injury or illness, I’ve played at least a couple of hours a week in countless pickup games and men’s leagues, including a stint in Italy while studying abroad.
I owe my career in DC to a chance game with Congressman Ed Markey, out of which I wrangled a job on Capitol Hill. Since 1992, I’ve been a regular in a Sunday game with other aging hoopsters.
As I hit my forties and started seeing buddies retire from the game, I wondered whether the end was coming for me. I’d survived chronic aches, sprains, tendinitis, even surgeries. It was taking longer just to get ready—the pregame stretching and taping prep ran nearly 30 minutes. My postgame ritual involved enough ice for a cocktail party. At the same time, helped by a trainer, I was in the best shape of my life. I felt like I was holding my own against guys in their twenties with college-basketball pedigrees, which I lacked. Still, I knew every game could be my last.
Then in 2009, when I took my two sons to an American University game, regrets I’d long harbored about not playing college ball resurfaced. I realized I’d never be satisfied until I proved I could, and time was running out.
But how does a 46-year-old lawyer get himself into an NCAA game? With nothing to lose, I e-mailed AU coach Jeff Jones: Could he help find a way for me to play with his team? Jones, who’s 50, understood. In October, he invited me to join an unsanctioned pickup game his players ran during the off-season.
So with tape around my ankles, Icy Hot on my legs, and a large dose of Motrin, I found myself on the court with the AU squad. Each of the polite young men shook my hand. As I surveyed the athletes, who topped out at six-eleven, I began to wonder: Was I out of my mind? But the game was on.
Suffice it to say I wasn’t the go-to option on offense, and you wouldn’t find me on the highlight reel. I quickly got burned on defense by a lightning-quick drive to the basket by a sophomore guard. But after recovering, I did okay. I grabbed a rebound, had a steal, and put in an offensive board for a basket. My squad won the first game. Later games proved challenging, but I stayed afloat. I gave up six inches to a six-nine freshman but battled him to a draw in the paint. Another sophomore guard I covered ran me around the court, but I held him to one basket and hit a low-post turnaround on him.
Based on the players’ reaction, my presence was unremarkable—nothing spectacular, nothing disastrous. I was merely one of the guys in the game. That’s all I’d hoped for. When it was over, I was both relieved and elated. I’d scratched my last basketball itch.
Well, almost. There remains the Holy Grail of pickup basketball—playing with another middle-aged basketball fiend. Anyone in the West Wing reading this? Give me a call.
This article first appeared in the February 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.
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