The company for which I work recently moved its base of global operations to downtown Dallas. The transition has been, for the most part, lovely. The walk from parking lot to office has firmed my gams and sharpened my thoughts. The view from our glass tower delights the eye. Lunch options abound. (Affordable aprés-work drinks have proven more elusive, though the search is its own reward, right?)
The one rough adjustment: basketball.
For a decade or so, I played in a noontime game at a gym where members still refer to it by its old name, the Premier Club, despite its acquisition by a national outfit known as Lifetime Fitness. The place was, and still is, fairly upscale. No Cooper Aerobics Center, certainly, but the locker room is stocked with free disposable razors (which, of course, aren’t free). If I told you that the regular basketball game sometimes features an appearance by Mark Cuban, that detail would probably too drastically skew your opinion of the place, one way or the other. But that is, indeed, the case. Besides the one billionaire, the group of guys I played ball with included: a psychiatrist, a seller of fire-suppression systems, a stand-up comic, a drug rep, a hairstylist, an oilman, an adman, a lawyer, and a flipper of houses. I was the only journalist, thankfully.
Here’s the thing about a regular basketball game: it’s like a marriage. You know how to hurt each other. Jeff has that stupid running hook shot. Dave has the quick release. Tim (aka “The Other Tim”) has that slow, unstoppable turnaround. Corey will look like he’s traveling, but he isn’t (or says he isn’t in a very convincing way). JD—damn you, old man—will fill the bucket from beyond the arc if you give him the open shot. The tendencies of your opponents, of your teammates, make you want to scream. But you also love them for it. Because they’re predictable, comfortable.
Have I slipped into a semihomoerotic reverie set on the hardwood? Maybe. Probably.
As I said, our office moved downtown, a block from the YMCA mother ship. And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Convenience? For men, when it comes to crimes of the heart, convenience is nearly always a factor. I could have remained faithful to my Premier Club buddies. I could have made the effort. But once we moved downtown, I was able to walk from work to play basketball. It was easy. I signed up.
The first day I played at the YMCA, I had a realization: switching gyms is like transferring to a new school. First, you get a new locker. Second, you get a rare opportunity to redefine yourself. Are you a geek? A jock? A Goth? Do you always look to pass? Do you like to drive the lane? Do you wear dark socks with sneakers? Whatever. It doesn’t matter. The guys will look at your clothes and make assumptions about you, but none of them has actually seen you play. At a new gym, you can be whatever you’ve always wanted to be.
Me, I decided that at the Y, after all those years of being typecast at Premier, things would be different. I would be good. I’d make shots and dribble between my legs and fire no-look passes to teammates cutting to the basket. No more falling down like a much shorter, even whiter Shawn Bradley.
My transformation lasted about 10 minutes into the first game I played there. That’s when it registered that the Y’s court is full size, whereas Premier’s is truncated to fit into a smaller space, and I am a few months shy of my 40th birthday. You know when your mouth gets all dry, and your field of vision collapses into a narrow tunnel, and it feels like you’re running with Larry King’s legs? In the box score for that first game, my stats were not impressive.
There were other hiccups in my adjustment to the new place. For instance, I’m inclined to pinch a guy’s ass. If he’s going to post me up, try to back me down in the lane, I’m going to give him a little goose—right before he gets the ball, just to give him something to think about besides how he’s going to score on me. Thing is, if you play basketball with a guy for five years, you can pinch his ass, and he’ll go with the joke: “Oh, honey, not so hard!” Stuff like that. But the first guy I pinched at the Y, I don’t think he was up for it.
Similarly, I got the impression that the new guys didn’t appreciate my in-game chatter. E.g., after an opponent’s missed shot: “That’s just hubris, shooting from that far out.” After I sink one: “Sorry, man. I can’t control what the ball do.” At any opportune moment: “I like your shorts.”
But it’s been a few weeks now, and I think I’m starting to fit in at the Y. Last Monday, a guy on the other team warned my defender before a game started: “That guy can play.” Afterward, I showed him my lame fake ID and asked if he’d buy me some beer.
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