“It’s short notice,” my friend Greg said when he called that afternoon, “but a couple of the guys can’t make it to our men’s league game tonight. Are you up for a few hoops? »
Greg was part of a group that met in my driveway once or twice a month for an afternoon of basketball. It usually involved a game of HORSE RIDING while the burgers cooked on the grill, and it never involved running.
Running, we decided, was too much work and posed the threat of spilling our drinks.
“Man, it’s been a long time since I played real basketball,” I said.
“It’s just a friendly game,” he said. “Nothing too serious. And you probably know most of the guys. He named a doctor, two businessmen, a businessman, a clergyman, a teacher, an auto mechanic, and a few others I knew .
“Very good group,” I said.
Friendly game. Nothing too serious.
“Yeah…I’ll see you at the gym.”
I walked in with a red, white and blue headband that I had bought after seeing Meadowlark Lemon wearing one at a Globetrotters game on “Wide World Of Sports”.
One of the guys called me “Meadowlark” and everyone laughed.
I discreetly slipped the headband into my gym bag.
We spent 15 minutes doing a warm-up lap, and I thought back to my high school basketball days: the squeak of sneakers on the gym floor and the buzz of lights overhead. Silently pleading “Don’t throw it at me.” The coach shouting “Wake up, Conradt!”
“Hey, Dan,” someone said, snapping me out of my reverie. “You are with us.”
The guys had been divided into teams, and I was going to be the wild card: at 6-foot-2, I had…potential.
It was show time. And the show, I quickly discovered, was a little more serious than I expected.
The company guy threw a pretty good dunk, the cleric had sharp elbows and wasn’t afraid to use them. The professor had the sly, quick hands of a pickpocket, and the mechanic didn’t miss a beat.
And there was racing. LOTS of running.
I spent much of the night hugging my knees and trying to take deep breaths in a space that suddenly seemed to lack oxygen. My lungs were burning like I’d inhaled a Caroline Reaper, and my legs couldn’t decide between “rubbery” and “stiff as a board”; if I felt so bad in the middle of the game, I could only imagine how bad I would feel in the morning.
I decided to stop at Ben-Gay on the way back.
We handed the gym to the next group of guys 45 minutes later.
At least I think it was 45 minutes. It had been maybe a month.
By my tally, I made one of seven shots I took, had two rebounds, and traveled more than Rick Steves.
“Do you play ball at school?” the doctor asked as we left the gym.
“Not much,” I said sincerely. My answer didn’t seem to surprise him.
“Well, I hope you can play with us again someday,” he said.
Only if the next game is in my driveway, I thought. I’ll even spot you an H.
And I could wear my blindfold.
Dan Conradt, a permanent resident of Mower County, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.