84 x 50 – A Holiday Tournament

For a long time, I used to go to the gym early.

I was able to attend a high school basketball tournament over the holidays.  Over 3 days, 8 teams battled for a tournament championship.  Each team had 2 games scheduled per day.

The typical high school basketball court is 84 feet by 50 feet.  4,200 square feet measures the battleground.  I felt as though I had just as many memories.  The 3-point line is beautifully drawn creating an arc 19 feet and 3/4 inches away from the center of the rim.  It occurred to me that underlying the game of basketball is a geometric symphony with 4 movements called periods or quarters.  I felt as though as I was experiencing my own Remembrance of Things Past.

I hadn’t been in a high school gym for quite some time.  Walking in, I was struck by familiar sounds and sights, familiar smells, familiar dreams.  My mind and even parts of my body seemed to reawaken as though they had been slumbering in hibernation.  There was an energy source re-lit…an oil well once usable and now thought dry had begun once again to bubble to the surface.

I suppose I could say I was fracking myself…that upon entering the gym I had a desire to tap and squeeze dry the last bits of energy from the cracks and recesses of my basketball soul.  I was happy to discover there was still fuel to be burned after all this time.

The first thing I noticed was the hardwood floor.  There is no mistaking the sound of shoes squeaking on that hardwood.  (The orchestra’s frantic string section.)  No mistaking the thud and soft echo of a ball making contact with it.  (The orchestra’s percussion section.)  No mistaking the sound of the nylon net when the ball whips its way through.  (The orchestra’s woodwind section.)  And the back and forth and sideways and up and down dance that is basketball…while onlookers cheer and howl.  (The orchestra’s brass section.)

During one of the games, I came across a friend from the past in the crowd.  An ex-player like myself, but one who was still active in the baller’s community.  I told him I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something seemed different about these high school players.  Something different from when we were playing.  He summed it up perfectly by pointing out that these kids are much more skilled than we were, and had developed advanced skills at a younger age.  I looked up to see a player dribbling the ball quickly back and forth between his legs.  The ball looked like it was on a string attached to his palm.  A basketball yo-yo he snapped back into his hand at will.

I agreed but then pointed out that I thought we were tougher.  He just laughed and I realized his laughter was the perfect answer.  We weren’t any tougher.  We just like to think we were.

As generations pass and new ones come of age, the tendency is for the older generations to lament the changes occurring in the game.  How it’s played, what rules have been added, what rules have been eased or downright ignored, how the integrity of the game is gone, and how the kids have changed.  “It used to be, when you told a kid to run through a brick wall he’d do it.  Now when you tell him that, he asks why.”

It wasn’t true in past generations and it isn’t true now.  These were good kids.  They played hard and didn’t mind doing the dirty work.  They played together and I was excited by their enthusiasm and obvious love for the game.  We weren’t any tougher.  I just like to think we were.

If any thing has changed, it’s our expectations.  And this happens to every generation, at some point.  As we age, the presence of time and time passing can seem more like a burden than a gift.  We (desperately running away from time) expect the youth (eagerly running headlong into time) to learn quicker and be more serious and devoted…because we live with the presence and pressure of time.  Most youth don’t.  This is why every older generation becomes frustrated with the younger generation.  And this pattern will repeat time and time again.


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