Aging Gracelessly

For the past year, I’ve been playing basketball on Tuesday nights and racquetball on Wednesday. Occasionally I’ll play basketball on Friday mornings, but not consistently. Two days of strenuous exercise is about all my body can take right now. If I lost some more weight, maybe I could sneak in another day or two which is my plan. But that’s a few months off.

It’s easy to come up with excuses for why I shouldn’t play basketball. I have a weak ankle that I’ve rolled half a dozen times. My big toe is in constant pain for two days after I play. And last year I sustained a back injury that didn’t subside until I gave up all athletics for two months. I’ve broken bones and ripped off my knee cap playing soccer in the rain when I slid over a sprinkler. Yet those felt like a paper cut compared to the back pain.  onesie

I wish I could say I always feel better after I play. I supposed I feel better knowing that I got in some high intensity exercise. But my body creaks and aches until Tuesday rolls around again and the court calls my name. I just can’t turn down a game of basketball no matter how hard I try. I love the game although I’m a very average player for how much I’ve played.

When I was in college, I would jog downtown to the Deseret Gym from the University of Utah. It was only a couple of miles, but then I’d play basketball for two to three hours. Four to six days a weeks. I can’t fathom doing that today.

Sports can be deceptive. My mind tells me that I should be able to drive the full length of the court and weave my way into the lane and knock down a jumper. I can picture myself doing that because I was able to it for so many years. Now, I’ll defer to a younger player to bring the ball up the court while I search for an open spot behind the three point line. I’m the Rasheed Wallace of the community gym. I’m the guy that doesn’t look like he could throw the ball in the ocean. But I can knock down a three if left unguarded. More than once I’ve heard opposing players say, “No way is that old guy going to beat us”. 

This got me thinking that maybe my mind is not aging at the same rate as my body. My mind can recall the days of playing day after day along with the moves and shots I took for so many years. I wish my mind would sync up with my body in that sense.

Two weeks ago I decided to take up a less demanding sport in golf which I’ve not played in years. I woke up early to hit a bucket of balls at the driving range in preparation for the round my friend scheduled two days later. Given how long it’s been since I played, I was thrilled with how well I hit the ball. I felt like I was turning back the clock, and that maybe, I’d found a sport that I could perform as well at 42 as I did at 24.

Until I woke up the next morning with acute pain in my thumb from holding the club incorrectly.

I wonder if I should buy myself a jumpsuit and a pair of Mephistos and take up mall walking.

The Home on Van Buren

I’ll never know a home like the one I grew up in.

It’s not just the home where I spent the first twenty years of my life. It’s the place where, as a child, I explored every nook and cranny. I knew exactly how far the water hose stretched in order to drench my sisters while they played on the swing. I knew how to climb on the roof to retrieve balls that wouldn’t budge from the carport, and I knew where to jump down so my parents couldn’t see me.

I didn’t grow up with a Nintendo or Xbox. Unless the Steelers were playing, I had little reason to sit in front of the TV.

I’d much rather be outside playing wiffleball with Butch who lived across the street. Every young boy needs a friend named Butch. We made our own rules. If the ball landed in the street it was an automatic out. So we learned to bat left-handed and pull the ball onto the neighbors lawn. The third pole from the right served as first base, and the water meter cover served as second.

house

I thought about the old house this past week as my parents were packing  and moving into a new home a few miles north. It served as their home for 40 years and looks about the same as it did when they moved in other than a few trees my father planted.

Visiting Ogden this summer won’t feel quite the same. The hub of our extended family now belongs to someone else. Life goes on.

Many of my favorite memories center around helping my father around the yard. Each Saturday I was expected to mow the lawn after I watched an episode of Hong Kong Phooey or two.

Our mower didn’t have a bag to catch the clippings so my father made me mow the grass in two directions effectively turning our basic mower into a mulcher. At the beginning of each summer I’d beg my father for a new model, and he finally got around to purchasing a fancy Honda mower the year I moved out of the house.

I’ll sure miss the old home, but I have a lot of great memories of the place.

And that pine tree you see on the foreground? That served as third base when it was only a few feet off the ground.

Trusting Your Team

With the scored tied and his team in possession of the ball, University of Washington basketball coach, Lorenzo Romar, had a decision to make: call a timeout or not.

romar

With nearly 30 seconds remaining, Romar had plenty of clock to worth with. Many coaches would have immediately called a timeout and drew up a play in the huddle.

But not coach Romar.

He trusted his system, his coaches, his instincts and untold hours of preparation. He taught his players well and understood they knew exactly where the ball needed to be on their final possession of the game.

But most of all, he trusted his players.

By calling a timeout, he could have controlled the final few ticks left on the clock. Coaches egos often take over in these situations.

Too many coaches, even in the NBA, try to impose their will on a game by calling plays for every offensive possession near the end of games. How often do you witness a point guard looking over to the sideline as he brings the ball up the floor?  This style of coaching takes away the opportunity for his players to feel the game and adapt accordingly.

Basketball is a graceful game. Someone gets into a groove. Teams make a run. A block turns into a fast break on the other end of the floor. There’s a beautiful back and forth to the contest.

But that fluidity is destroyed when coaches call timeouts and demand a certain play be run. The last few minutes of games can turn into snail-paced chess matches between coaches when the game should be about the athletes! I often hear coaches step onto their soapboxes and demand the refs swallow their whistles during the final seconds and allow the players to determine the outcome. Maybe these same coaches should look in the mirror first. 

That’s why it was such a joy to watch Romar last night.

Sure, everyone will remember Quincy Pondexter’s amazing leaner for the win. That shot goes down in Husky history.

But Romar’s “no call” is what impressed me most.

Do you have that level of trust with your team?

Ride Home From School

As I’ve written before, I attended four years of high school with my father who was a teacher and coach. He left early each morning. Much earlier than I needed to be up. But most days he’d give me a ride home after football, basketball or baseball practice. Even if he had to wait around for practice to end.

The drive from the high school to our home only took ten minutes which was plenty long when I played poorly. But the majority of the time we enjoyed each other’s company. It was a few minutes out of each day when he could get to know me a little better away from the hectic practice schedule.

We talked about school and sports. Even girls. Whatever I wanted to talk about. He never forced the discussion.

Having children of my own, I understand how difficult it is to carve out time for each child. It takes patience. It takes planning. It’s a lot easier to toss them all in the van and go for a ride.

But those 1×1 instances with my children often result in the deeper relationships.

After the kids went to bed tonight, Kai awoke and began crying. Kim brought him downstairs so the other kids could go back to sleep. I bounced him on my leg as he grabbed peanuts and Mini M&M’s off my desk. At one point he began drinking my ice water through a straw. Warm tears streamed off his cheeks and onto my arm.

I thought about putting him down or sending him back to mom. That way I could go back to writing and listening to music without a two year old wiping his nose on my shoulder.

But I thought of those moments I had with my father all those years ago. Five minutes here. Ten minutes there. The duration wasn’t as important as the frequency. And that my father was there.

He was there back then. And he’s still here today whenever I need to talk.

That’s what I want my children to say one day.

When they no longer need a ride home from school.

Olympic Memories

Remember when the Olympics were not just the main attraction but were the only attraction? Before 200 cable channels, high definition sets, and Twitter. A time when your friends, your neighbors and the country spent a couple of weeks glued to the television each evening.

When the US hockey team shocked the world in 1980, we still practiced bomb drills at school. Get under your desk and stay out of the hallways to avoid flying glass. We were taught to be afraid of the Russians, but were not told why. Communism to a 12 year old boy didn’t mean much.

I searched our set of encyclopedias for pictures of Russians. They wore big furry coats and funny hats. But they didn’t look all that different from myself. What was so evil about them?  An older friend told me they didn’t believe in God. But that didn’t scare me into hating them. I couldn’t figure it out.

But I did understand sports, and that’s what mattered. We talked about the win over the Russians at the dinner table. We discussed it at church. My history teacher used the game as a metaphor for how the free market system is superior to all others. The hockey team transcended the sport. One could not escape the excitement.

And why would one want to?

Watching Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White brought back memories of watching the games with my family. Did you catch Vonn’s interview shortly after her win in the downhill? She was asked about how she might fare in two upcoming events. She laughed and smiled and replied, “I don’t care!” with tears streaming down her face.

I loved that.

I remember watching gymnast, Mary Lou Retton, nail a 10 on the vault to win the all-around event in 1984. My mom and sisters went parading through the house when she landed firmly on both feet.

We cheered on many athletes including Kristi Yamaguchi, Bonnie Blair, Carl Lewis, and Sarah Hughes. Remember Katarina Witt and Oksana Baiul? It didn’t matter they represented other countries. They possessed so much personality and grace that I could not help but root for them.

But, for me, one Olympic performance stands above all others.

It was the back story of speed skater, Dan Jansen that drew me in and wouldn’t let go. At the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Jansen was the heavy favorite in the 500 and 1000 meter races. On the morning of the 500, his sister passed away, and he fell early in the race. A few days later, he fell again in the 1000 meters and went home without a medal.

At the 1992 Winter games in Albertville, he arrived as the heavy favorite again but finished 4th in the 500 and 26th in the 1000 meters. He left the games without a medal and many wondered if he’d ever recover from so many heartbreaking defeats.

When the 1994 games in Lillehammer rolled around, expectations were tempered a bit. But there was hope he’d finally reach the medal stand. When he finished 8th in the 500 meters many thought he’d lost out on his best chance to medal.

I was in my last few months of school at the University of Utah and I spent nights studying at the student union center for two reasons: I could catch Seinfeld on the big screen and jump over the Fun House pinball machine when I’d had enough German lit for the night.

When I noticed a group gathered around the lone big screen TV, I made my way over to watch Jansen’s last race of the games. There must have been 30 of us gathered around. Everyone was standing. Yet there was little chatter among the group. Of course, we heard Jansen’s story again and were reminded this could be his last Olympic race. We’d all heard it before.

As Jansen approached the starting line, nobody said a word. I tried to jostle myself a little closer to the TV.

But when the gun went off to start the race the place went crazy. People were screaming and cheering. It was surreal. I had a difficult time seeing the screen as those in front of me were jumping up and down. When Jansen crossed the finish line in world record time wrapping up the gold medal, the place exploded. Several guys gave me high fives. Strangers were hugging each other. I didn’t know anyone in the group that night but it didn’t matter.

It’s the only time I’ve cried while watching a sporting event.

Watching the video on YouTube still gives me chills. The race starts at the :54 mark, and the excitement isn’t diminished one bit by the fact I have no idea what language the announcers are speaking. But you can hear the joy in their voices as they count down the last few seconds and finally crescendo when Jansen finishes.

I believe the world was pulling for Jansen that day. Listen to the crowd. Watch flags go up from all over the world.

What an amazing performance. What an amazing story.

Boys of Summer

Kim asked me to spend some time in the backyard with the kids this evening. What I think she meant to say was, “Do something to wear out the kids so they will go to bed before midnight”.

But either way, she was right.

We started out playing soccer using a tree and yellow Tonka truck as goal markers. The game ended when Anna went inside and wrote “7” on a piece of paper and “4” on another. She returned to the yard to flash the scores which turned out to be in her favor.

Her siblings who didn’t agree. As the official score keeper, I went to the sideline to review the instant replay monitor and called the game a tie, which certainly prevented a bench-clearing brawl.

lincbaseball

We moved on to baseball. Or as close to the game of baseball one can come using a Spiderman bat and volleyball.

I showed both Lincoln and Luca how to hold a baseball bat. The proper grip, stance and motion were all part of the lecture. Just as I thought I was getting through, Luca said, “Just throw the ball, dad”.

I found myself giving the same advice my father gave me. I can’t imagine the number of hours my father spent playing catch with me. I can still hear the *smack* of the ball hitting my glove just right. Or the times he’d toss batting practice and I’d lace a hit into the street. My dad would race after the ball to keep it from going down the storm drain.

The older I get, the more I realize how often I give my children the same advice my parents gave me.

“Keep your chin on your shoulder and drive though the ball”

“If you take it, you eat it”

“No running in the church”

“Don’t sit too close to the TV”

“Hustle every play”

“All four chair legs on the floor”

“Say excuse me”

The phrases I told myself I’d never use on my own kids are the ones I repeat the most often. Maybe they contain the most universal truth. Or they could be the only ones I remember.

But it does make me aware that what I say to my children make take up permanent residence in their minds.

So when Lincoln asked me to retrieve the ball he smacked into the neighbor’s yard, I just smiled.

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For the Love of Basketball

Ask Kim. She’ll tell you I’m addicted to basketball. Even the kids now greet me at the door each evening asking, “Are you going to leave us AGAIN to play basketball?”

I don’t know when the switch flipped. I played in basketball leagues from the time I could dribble a ball up through high school. This was before the three point line was introduced so I spent my time at point guard pounding the ball inside to our big men. If I could get a steal or fill the lane on a fast break, I might get an easy layup.

When I moved to Salt Lake to attend the University of Utah, I began playing ball at the Deseret Gym. It didn’t take long before I realized I had a decent outside shot. I practiced and played pickup games five days a week the last two years of college.

And I was totally hooked. I love the competition and the camaraderie. I love the swish of the net on a 3 pointer.  I love the exercise and sore muscles the next morning. I’m addicted to the flow of the game. The games to 15 by ones and twos, the fast breaks, and the high fives and needle threading passes. I even like coming home and collapsing on the couch from sheer exhaustion.

Tonight I shot hoops with Luca. She can granny it off the backboard and into the cylinder now. I can’t wait till we can play H-O-R-S-E or one on one together. I’ll be happy if my kids learn to play an instrument or participate in scouts or make the honor roll. But I’ll jump for joy if if they take to  basketball!

The game tonight ended when this kid darted out of the stands and ran off with our ball.

basketball

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