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Something in Common

When we were in our 30s and 40s, my friends and I used to play a lot of basketball together. Well, actually, it was kind of a cross between basketball and rugby. It bore little resemblance to the game you see played on TV.

During the warm weather, we played half-court in my driveway and during the winter full-court in an elementary school gym. In my driveway, you had to beware of the wild rosebush behind the basket. The roses only bloomed for about a week out of the year, but the thorns were always in season. It wasn’t the greatest landing spot after you had slid, face-first, across several feet of pockmarked pavement. After you detached your torn-up body from the thorns, glared at the guy who hit you, and called a foul, the guy would usually say something like, “How many do I have left?” It was a joke based on the “unlimited foul rule” in pick-up basketball. And it never failed to get a laugh from all the players on both teams.

In the gym, teams were picked at the beginning of the night through shootouts. From the foul line. The first five who hit their shots were on one team, the next five were on the other team, and anyone left over played the next game on the loser’s squad. If you won the game you stayed on the court. But the greater incentive to win was that the winners got to pick which basket they shot at. You wanted the hoop with a lot of daylight and floor space behind it. Because less than three feet behind the other basket was a brick wall. And brick walls are even worse at cushioning crash landings than thorn bushes.

Sometimes new guys would come down to play, but they usually only lasted one night and never came back. After getting hammered while going up for a shot or a rebound, they might say something like, “Hey, take it easy. We all have to work tomorrow.” To which the standard reply was, “Not if you take a sick day.” “Or have disability insurance,” someone might add. Or a newcomer might say, “Hey, we’re all here to have fun and get some exercise, not hurt ourselves.” Which would draw a response along the lines of, “If you want fun and exercise, join an aerobics class.”

My friend Jay says the first time he played with us somebody broke his arm. Jay says within two minutes we had the guy up and off the court. Then, while the guy left the gym groaning and holding his lame arm, presumably to drive himself to the hospital, we continued playing like nothing had happened. Jay didn’t know what to do, so he just kept playing like the rest of us.

The next week, Jay came to the gym and asked us what had happened to the guy who broke his arm.

According to Jay, we all said the same thing. At the same time.

“What guy?”

Then someone inbounded the ball to begin the game and we all started moving down the court.

OK, maybe that makes us troubled people.

But troubled people with something in common.