Not So Briefly On Aging, Arvydas Sabonis, And Being Sworn About


Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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30 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    You shouldn’t play with people much younger or better than you. It will only lead to bad comparison and depression. If you do a race you look at how you placed in your age group not how the 20 somethings or elites blew you away. That might make it harder to find games but unless you are trying to improve your game by going against superior players you are asking for a world of hurt.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to greginak says:

      It’s nice when your sport allows that. I took up fencing again four years ago at age 56. There’s no choice — they’ll chase you out of the beginners classes at some point because you’re too good, and then you’re going to fence people better than you are and younger than you are. So I take my Aleve, and I stretch religiously after each session, and while I’ll never hit an A-rated fencer who’s paying attention, from time to time I can honest-to-God fool someone with a B rating and score a touch that embarrasses them :^)Report

    • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to greginak says:

      This isn’t a luxury I have. Run a game when there is a game, assess the level of play as quickly as possible, and adjust accordingly. If this means running against better players, so be it. And if that means all of the trickeration necessary to hang with those better players, then so be that. Yes, there will be disappointment, but it can be minimized at times.Report

  2. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I haven’t played ball in a number of years now, since I damaged my shoulders, which left me with a hitch in my shooting motion. But the very last pickup game I played in, I did what I mostly did, focus on picks, a few rebounds, and frustrating the guy I was defending. I took only one shot, the game winner, from behind the three point line, and since I had to leave after the game anyway, I just turned and walked off the court like I’d never doubted I’d hit it.

    Sometimes you just have to milk it a bit.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

      Some college friends and I are down to playing one annual game on the birthday of the guy who was always the driving force behind any given pick-up game we’d play. So our last game was last June. My game is basically like yours, and in that game last year I also hit the game winner from behind the (visible only to us) three (two is ones-and-twos) line after hitting very little for most of the game. We play a crazy game we call the “Century Game,” which is born of our crazy college selves playing the “Temperature Game,” which is ones and twos up to the F temperature at the start of the game. One time that was 100F on this guy’s birthday, and since then we’ve been playing the Century Game annually.

      The guy whose birthday that is moved to Australia since last year, so the continuation of the annual tradition is looking dubious right now. So right now my basketball ego is pretty much living off that improbably walk-off jumper from a year ago. I’m a little afraid to go back on the court now, especially given the collapse of any semblance of a fitness regime that I allowed to happen this winter. I can live with that.

      Happy hooping, ballers!Report

    • That’s the story of my life too. I’ve never actually been good, even when I was younger. I would usually just try to match up against a top player for the other team and try to frustrate them as much as possible.
      Now in New England, I struggle to find teams that I can even do that on now. I tried playing with the college kids and those games just end up way too competitive for me.Report

  3. Avatar Dave says:


    As someone that has only recently become a fitness junkie, I found this to be a very interesting post. I’m going to write a follow up post that takes your ideas about sports and aging and write from the perspective of someone that only recently got back into shape after spending years being out of shape and overweight. We took different paths but we are both trying to find the outer boundaries of our capabilities and how those boundaries are influenced by the fact that we’re older.Report

    • Avatar Dave in reply to Dave says:

      One quick note,

      I can write it quickly but I won’t publish it until next week.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Dave says:

      Looking forward to it Dave. I’m somewhat the same. I’ve always been active but i had a few years where i didn’t do much and let my weight rise and condition sink. However in the past 3 years i’ve worked myself into the best shape of my life or at least since i was playing hockey in college. In any case i’m much more into exercise and training and various sports now then ever really.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Cool post, Sam.

    Now do one on Rony Seikaly!Report

    • Avatar Sam in reply to Kazzy says:

      Surely you’re not comparing Seikaly and Sabonis.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam says:

        Only insofar as they were tall European imports before that was really a “thing”. As a child, they sort of blended together. As I learned more about Sabonis’ career later in life, I came to much more greatly appreciate what he had been.Report

  5. Avatar Mo says:

    I loved those 92 Lithuania jerseys.Report

  6. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I used to love watching Šar?nas Mar?iulionis. He had a very aggressive game, and was kind of a tweener, half shooting guard, half linebacker.Report

  7. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    When I run more than twice a week now my knees also start to get that really sick feeling (also known as “pain”) on the inside-front. It’s a pisser.Report

  8. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    While I don’t know that your bank shot counts as “age and treachery” so much as an Icaran failure of hubris on the part of the kid defending you, you’re more than entitled to enjoy it.Report

    • Avatar Sam in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Whenever I play against younger players, they respond to bank shots as if I’m literally turning lead into gold in front of them. There is this constant disbelief that there is another way to shoot the basketball, and after the first game, I inevitably get, “Do you shoot anything else?” And I have to very briefly explain that, no, I can’t calculate the range as well when I’m focused on the leading edge of the rim versus a large backboard with painted targets on it. Then they look confused and wander off.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam says:

        I will say that the bank shot is enjoy a bit of a renaissance. I think for a long time it was considered “ugly” especially amongst the young’ns. But I think that is starting to change.

        Growing up, the courts I played at were almost exclusively black. I had no problems getting into the runs because I was young and knew most of the other young people from school. But there was this short, old white guy. He looked like Art Garfunkel. He was rather squat and knew how to use his body to create space. And he had this awkward little half-hook, half-scoop layup that he would spin off the backward and in every damn time. He couldn’t shoot over people, but he’d use his girth to fend his man off and then extent his arm out, flip the ball up, and sink it. The young people — myself included — were beside ourselves. “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!?!” He also had really good handle, meaning he was hard to keep out of his preferred little spot. And most young guys (talking teenagers here) don’t have the strength or the body awareness to know how to deal with a little billiard ball of a man with 50 years of wit to him.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Sam says:

        I used the bank shot a lot when I played regularly. Like you said, there’s a friggin’ target on the board for a reason. In much the same way I often use my pool stick to line up the angle for a shot so i know where to hit the ball,Report

  9. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    OTOH, my friend plays soccer in an age 60+ league in Mexico. Full 45-minute halves. He loves it, says lots of these guys have real game.

    They can only play about once every two weeks so all the guys can recover.Report

  10. Avatar zic says:

    I know a lot of aging musicians. Playing is seriously athletic, bodily injury often means an end to some part of your career, because endurance, timing, and reflex speed are essential. Yet people have careers of 60 years and more, if they manage to not die young.

    If you want to keep in the game, play like a musician.

    Or take up golf.

    Are you familiar with the inspiring story of Fred Hersch, a jazz pianist and composer who re-learned how to play after being in an AIDS coma?Report

  11. Avatar Andrew says:

    Awesome… I’m in very much the same boat, a 38-year-old basketball player who is nowhere near the player I used to be… Round about 18 or 20 years ago, if everything was lined up just perfectly, I could throw down the occasional dunk. I had quickness to go by defenders and a reliable jumper out to 20 feet.

    Much of that is gone now. Dunking is out of the question and I can’t jump over opponents to out-rebound them. Somewhere around 2009, my confidence in my jumper inexplicably left as well and damned if I know when that’s coming back. And I completely relate to the idea of being in severe pain the night of and the day after playing…

    And while friends my age talk of retirement, and fears of torn ligaments and broken bones pop up, I keep playing as often as I can get a game together.

    But what I enjoy about playing at this age is that my game has to change. I relish that. Some of the guys I play with talk about “if I knew the game as well as I do now back when I was 18, I would have been unstoppable” and that’s true to some extent. You don’t need to be a great athlete to be an effective basketball player. While my athleticism has waned, my knowledge of the game has increased and I’ve got enough tricks in my bag to hang with younger players. My passing is better, I rely on fundamentals to put myself in the right place at the right time. And every now and then a little burst that I had forgotten about shows up for a play or two…

    Hell, the group of guys I usually play with are all a bunch of guys in their late 30s and into their 40s and we regular run teams of 18- and 20-year-olds off the court.Report

  12. Avatar El Muneco says:

    Another guy a lot like Andrew here, only I’m 47 and my sport is association football (which Brits accuse USans of calling “soccer”, which is a fair cop, but it’s their word in the first place, and they still use it regularly as well). Fortunately, I’ve never had a serious knee problem since I partially tore an ACL while jogging in the early 90s – my right hamstring is my personal millstone, it appears to have done about a thousand more miles than the rest of my body. I’ve also watched lots of teammates pass out of the game, but I’m not about to budge, and I train about three times as much on off-days as I used to in my 30s.

    I’m also all about “age and guile beat youth and a bad haircut”. When I switched from baseball to soccer around ’95, I was regularly the fastest guy on the field, so I didn’t really need to have any other tricks. I’m still pretty quick for my age, about average overall, but like Andrew said, experience has just taught me so much to supplement diminished physical capacity – and I agree that key among them are simplicity and fundamentals. So many times I see a youngster do something over-elaborate when if it were me it would be bang-bang: control, read the situation, dish it off, keep possession, keep things moving, move on.

    The flow of the game just moves so much slower than it did back in the day, in my perception, so I don’t need to move as fast to be in the right place. I’ve seen the platonic ideal of this a few times… Still playing at the top level despite being in his mid-30s, usually a Brazilian, has stopped following the team dietician’s rules and trains with a cigarette in one hand. And you never see him sprint during a game. But time after time, the camera tracks to follow the ball, and he’s just there, breaking up the opposition’s move.Report

  13. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Just reading this now. Awesome piece, Sam.

    FWIW, I am now sitting with both ankles up because I spent time on an elliptical and did some weights yesterday and they are both killing me. Such is my lot now.Report

  14. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    Loved this post Sam. Aging has been interesting for me in certain ways. I don’t have the stamina or the physical strength I once did but I find my hand-eye-coordination has never been better. I shoot way better now than I did when I was in my 20s. My gun knows where to go on my shoulder and it just comes more easily. I find that when I play a game of pickup basketball it’s the same thing. I can’t drive hard or chase young guys up and down the court but I know the shots I can make and they come easier than they used to. I think slowing down has actually improved my concentration which means I am not firing from the hip but taking my time to execute form better. But yeah, the next day it feels like I was run over by a truck.

    An interesting side note: Last weekend I played my nephews and my daughter’s boyfriend in a game of HORSE in my mom’s driveway. I killed them. I was taking ridiculous shots because I know that backboard so well. I have been playing in that driveway for almost 30 years. My nephews know that it’s my ‘home court’ and so they are used to it. My daughter’s boyfriend? I think he was a little shocked when I drained a long bomb from the deck because I know the springs are shot and when the ball hits the board it just drops straight down. So age + experience = little victories.Report

    • …but I find my hand-eye-coordination has never been better.

      This too will pass, my young friend. The across-the-board effects of my recently completed decade from age 50 to 60 has been… disturbing. Annoying. Several other adjectives. And I think I’m doing well compared to many of my contemporaries.Report

  15. Avatar Patrick says:

    I’ve never been any damn good at basketball’s athletic side. But I can box out and set picks like nobody’s business.

    Take out the thug, but otherwise play like Rodman.Report