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.