For the last five years I have had the opportunity and the pleasure to live independently of all institutions. This is an unusual thing, especially for someone my age, and it has involved some sacrifices. I feel that it is well worth it, and I wish others who are of a similar socio-economic background would do this as well, because the world would be a better place for it.
One of the great features of this lifestyle is that I can play basketball whenever and wherever I choose. My life consists more or less of four things: books, ball, booze, and girls, and pretty much in that order. Most of the guys who have played with me would probably describe me as a tough competitor, a guy who lacks real athleticism but can do everything on the court and do it better than most of the other guys. I can’t get around anyone,and I can’t jump. But I’m the smartest guy on the court, I find passes in and to places others can’t see, I can hit the 3, I can score in the post, I have a mid-range game, I block a ton of shots (especially as a help defender, on the fast break, or when I get beat by my own guy), I can rebound, and you can stick me on the other team’s best player and it will take a load of screens to get him free. If you give me the ball at the end of the game, especially if I’ve stunk for the rest of it, I will probably hit the last two shots–and make the last defensive play–to win the game. Some will deny this, but these are generally the guys who have been victims of my scoring barrages or my last-minute heroics.
Recently I’ve been hit by a string of injuries, mostly involving my face. The last two of these were a lacerated tongue in October, because I was an idiot and did not wear a mouth-guard, and, last night, a cut and gumball-shaped lump near my eye, the result of an errant elbow that a defender was trying to use to get at one of my shots in the post. Pain heals, chicks dig scars, and glory lasts forever. And you can tell Mayweather that I am coming for him.
The question now for me is when is enough enough? When do the injuries become too numerous and too frequent to justify continued play? I turned 27 on Saturday, and the guys who play pickup ball are in their late teens and early 20s. I told them to call me grandpa. The younger generation is not one of thinking men, and the differences between them an I are exacerbated by my injuries, rather than alleviated by the formation of common bonds.
Everybody who plays enough games gets hurt. I used to play from 10 am to noon on Sundays, then 10 pm to midnight, and then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday. I was as durable as a basketball player can get, and I could take a pounding. I was probably more durable because I never could jump and never was very quick.
I could call it quits now. I really could. But here’s why I don’t think I will:
1) Basketball is one of the greatest means by which I can assess people. All different kinds play, and you can tell a lot about a man by his game. All virtues and vices appear in the course of the game. A man’s intelligence or lack thereof is obvious; his dedication to himself or to others is there; his willingness to share, his critical thinking ability, his response to adversity and to triumph, his commitment to getting things right or lack thereof. Everything shows.
2) Basketball is a puzzle, and it exercises the highest elements of my mind and my character. God knows that when I began playing serious pickup ball at 18 or 19 I got trapped on the baseline after getting a rebound a thousand times. He knows that I would get the ball stolen trying to handle it, and I couldn’t get the ball out of a double- or triple-team, that i was a limited offensive player, and that I could be bullied on defense. He also knows that I have been able to transform myself into a dominant point-forward, from whom you can’t steal the ball, who can play both the wing and the post and can pass out of any trap you attempt to set for me. I’ve learned how to think through the game, and to process every situation you can encounter on the court. Given the speed at which the game is played, this is not at all easy, and many players remain lost their entire lives if they start the way I did. God gifted me with an eidetic memory for the purpose of figuring all of this out.
3) I love the game. This is the hardest point to understand, especially if you don’t love it, or don’t love anything. It’s a passion. For me it’s an art form.
So why do I say this here? Because these are three reasons that can be applied to almost any pursuit to justify its continuation. And I think that’s really worth noting. I said earlier that I’ve had to make sacrifices to remain independent. I may well be the last American to do this. But think about whether money is really the right justification for dependency, and whether these three things might justify an independent life. You might be surprised with what you conclude.