Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Careers: A love affair, interrupted

In March, five days after my intramural team won the league title, I was playing pickup ball. I drove the lane, jumped, landed, and felt my left knee come apart. The pain was incredible and I knew that I was in serious trouble. My ACL was blown. I had surgery, followed by months of physical therapy.

I thought about retiring from basketball. I figured that I had had a good run of it, and I had reached the age (35) when most professionals begin practicing their color commentary. Now obviously I'm no professional, but I was left wondering whether I had reached hoops menopause.

Unsurprisingly (if you know me), I dismissed the possibility of retirement pretty quickly. I love basketball too much, and the months off just underscored how important the game is to my life. Retirement felt like an unwanted divorce. ("Baby please! We can work this out!") Within weeks I was doing dribbling drills in my garage. I couldn't wait to start physical therapy, rehabilitate my knee, and get back to playing. I would ride my bike to the park, sit in the grass near the basketball courts, and pretend to read a book while ogling the pickup games. The only thought in my head: "I need to get back out there."

Well, I'm back out there. I started playing a few weeks ago and told myself I'd take it slow, which I have, but not by choice. I'm taking it slow because I am slow. Amazingly, I'm ok with this. I'm just so happy to be playing again that I don't care about how good I am. My stamina is poor and my shooting can best be described as erratic, but my ballhandling is solid (drills in the garage) and my court vision is undiminished. Instead of trying to be mid-career Jason Kidd, I'm happy to be late-career Mark Jackson. I don't need to be an alpha dog anymore.

Priorities matter. Younger players often don't have fun unless they win. I have fun no matter what. Winning is important to me, but not at the expense of camaraderie, honor, and the sheer animal joy of playing. Winning is not what I have been missing. Glory is not what I have been missing. Basketball is what I have been missing. And here's the actual bottom line: you don't end a 20-year affair because your lover inadvertently gave you a boo-boo.

5 comments:

Professor Halfmann said...

Right on Jeff! Can't wait to see you on the court later this week!

Anonymous said...

Good for you man! My buddy, who's in his 40s, just blew his ACL out in a pickup game. Pretty sure he's retiring. It was a bummer. When you get our age, kind of makes you stop and think...Am I too old for this s**t?!

Anonymous said...

I blew out my right knee (3rd time) about two weekends ago. I'm skipping the surgery and going with intensive PT. If I'm able to play again, I'll know in the next month or so.

Good to see you write something again. I'm looking for more and more stuff to read now that I'm off it for a while myself.

Anonymous said...

Congrats for getting back out there. I am still rehabbing my ACL / microfracture and hoping to get back out on the court in 2011. At 41, I have to weigh the risks to ambulation in my later years (3 knee surgeries) against the real health risk of couch potato disintegration in the present. If you love the game and you love team competition, nothing motivates like getting embarrassed on the court by lesser players with youth on their side. The old guys that can still play, stay competitive by taking better care of their bodies and work harder to stay fit. It's a difficult transition to make, for me. The pure joy of playing when you know your window is closing, is no easy thing to part with. (see Brett Favre, Michael Jordan, et al)

Eric said...

Can't believe I found this blog! Can't believe it exists :) I just suffered my first knee injury in 20+ years of playing. It hurt like hell and, cottage cheese ankles aside, this is my first pretty serious injury (don't get me wrong, I've had plenty of injuries, like broken ribs, dislocated shoulder, broken tooth, broken fingers, etc), but this is definitely the most debilitating. Happened last week. It's the first time in my life I actually considered that "fading away" might be better than "burning out". At 37 years old, limping on crutches like this for the first time in a while, I feel like I don't want to be the decrepit old geezer who can't play 1 on 1 with his son (by the time I'm 50, he'll be 15!!!!). This whole internal dilemma with "should I come back or should I retire", I'm going through it right now!!! Basketball, all these years, has been my motivation to stay fit. Looking good nekkid just doesn't cut it for me. I train hard. I study the field of training and nutrition for a living, so I've pushed my body quite a bit. I felt indestructible. Until now... I always thought it would be better to abuse what little cartilage I probably have left NOW, and suffer the consequences later. Not so sure anymore... Neither is my wife, who happens to be a physio. Damn, imagine that. Trying to convince your physio wife that you NEED to get back on the hardfloor haha. I still need to win though, play against the 20 year olds and show them how it's done. I still can. A new referee in our league the week just before my injury asked me what college I was playing at. I told him I was a bit older than that :) Only difference is, compared to my college-playing days: I can't perform two days in a row! Once or twice a week is plenty for my old joints, thank you. So, the big thing for me, will be finding out if I can live with being slower, less explosive, less competitive... Only time will tell I suppose. If I do all the rehab accordingly, get back on the court and it feels good, who knows. But, in the back of my head, I might just always be wondering what awaits at that next jump stop? Or in 10 years from now? It's the first time I really understand what someone like T-Mac might be going through...