As you walk into the gym on Saturday mornings, you can hear the thwack, thwack, thwack of basketballs being dribbled. You also hear what's become another familiar sound -- the clank, clank, clank of ugly shots that have no chance of going through the net.
Each Saturday, middle aged men in Gulfport try and prove they haven't lost their competitive zeal.
Most of the guys in the pick up games are over 40. Once upon a time, they all had game. They could post up down low, or knock down a three from the arc.
Those were the days when nobody worried about waist lines, because we were all young jocks, and none of us would ever get fat.
It's funny what age does to your body, and your game. Those days when you could dunk are over. Now, with a few extra pounds acting like a lead weight, you're lucky if you can jump high enough to touch the net.
Nevertheless, our games are competitive. And quite entertaining.
Flashes of past brilliance are still detectable.
There's one guy who seemingly never misses from three (he's only 38 -- oh to be young again).
Another guy was a decorated high school basketball coach. He's the pick and roll king.
Last week, he needed me to make a back cut to the hole, because it was open. However, we were in the middle of our third game at the time. And my legs felt like they were stuck in cement. I looked at him, laughed and said, "Maybe 20 years ago, but not today." So, the coach jacked up a three, and made it.
But for every made shot, there are a lot more painful reminders that basketball is a young man's game.
Fingers seem to get jammed a lot more during our games.
If you run into somebody, watch out.
We had a guy wrench his back one time -- on the first play of a game. He crawled to the sidelines. It was hard to watch. We haven't seen him in two weeks. I hope he's okay.
Games are to 10. You have to win by two. We're in the gym for almost two hours. We barely play four games. What does that say about our shooting percentages?
Lately, I've been a bum. I seem to be shooting a lot of air balls from inside 10 feet.
And then it happens. You get a few glimpses of your past glory. On one play last week, I pump faked my defender, dribbled past him, got into the lane, glided through the air, and actually made a layup. The oohs and ahhs made me feel special. Thanks guys.
I even hit the game winner in game four -- an 18 footer that rattled off the rim, bounced off the board, and fell through.
Sometime over the next three weeks, a college basketball player will hit a similar shot. His game ending field goal will carry more weight, because it will be in the NCAA tournament -- the "Big Dance."
Someday, that same player will carry additional weight around his mid-section. Trust me, he will. And, even though he's no longer at his current playing weight, he'll wander back into a gym to relive the glory days. The screaming fans he hears now will be replaced by screaming teammates who keep pulling muscles.
Getting old stinks, especially if you like to play basketball. At times, it can be embarrassing.
Oh well, who cares. I've got the next game. Just make sure I guard the guy who's more out of shape than me, because now that I've got my game back, I know I can take him to the hole.