It is impossible to absolutely and completely absolve oneself from a former love. While it may be easy to forget most things about that love and may be able to move on from a former love, to say the love is completely out of one’s system is not exactly true. When it comes to the game of basketball, the first love of my life, the statement fits the bill. It was the first escape, the first thing that ever gave back without having to ask. No matter what was going on, basketball was there and, for the longest, the goal was to give the game as much as it gave back.
Then I got old and left the game behind.
Well, it wasn’t a case of leaving the game behind completely, but more of a case of leaving it in the scope of playing. In a previous life, playing from sunrise to sunset seemed like the only way to approach the game. It was all about winning and losing. The winning team stayed on while the losing team went to the sideline and waited for minutes, even hours, before getting an opportunity at redemption. The only pain was from losing and not pain in any actual parts on my body.
As time passed, things changed. It isn’t as if the lack of playing the game can be attributed to a changing of responsibilities. If the former days included seeing a game being played and forcing myself on the court, the last several years are the total opposite. There is absolutely no urge to get on the court these days, and even when friends, co-workers and students play, there is much more peace to be found by being a casual observer and watching from the sideline than there is in grabbing a pair of sneakers, a pair of shorts and a mouthpiece to join the action.
Before yesterday, three years had passed since the last time any basketball was played, and while the scene was familiar, everything seemed so different. A loose ball that would have been mine in one lifetime skipped carelessly away. Shots that would have felt like money as soon as they left my hand felt off as soon as the ball was released. Simple finishes around the rim either fell short or went long. The game seemed faster while the body moved slower. Some of it was mental, and a lot of it had to do with rust, but if there was one thing that hadn’t changed in the time that’s passed since last playing, it was the language. Well, the bad language. There were a lot obscenities used that would have made my mother either cringe or slap the taste out of my mouth, but the talk can always be masked as being in the heat of competition.
After the game, there was no initial pain. Clothes were drenched and there were plenty of times in the game when there was more tugging on my shorts than playing defense, but outside of that, all was well. Today, though? Everything hurts. Legs, back, arms, feet, ankles everything. If this is what getting old feels like, then the playing days just might be numbered.
Or it can be a reminder not to let this much time go by between games ever again. Despite the physical pain and the blow to the ego of not playing for so long, yesterday brought the realization that the love of the game will always reign supreme, and that love can be enough to get back on the court for more.