Mckeithan column

Published 2:26 pm Tuesday, August 5, 2008

By Staff
Athletic skills fade as waistline grows
Local orthopedists hope basketball league reorganizes
I formed an unofficial basketball league about this time a year ago.
The Way-Too-Old-To-Be-Playing-Basketball-Association (WTOTBPBA) was the result of meticulous planning and research (OK, a five-minute spontaneous impulse). It was designed to get men over 40 actively involved in something that didn’t involve eating, drinking, napping or deteriorating, in general.
I ran an ad in our awesome local paper (Yes, I paid for it, Brownie) and had about 20 men sign-up. Obviously, I was onto something because the first day we had a gym full of middle-aged guys with brand new sneakers.
It was apparent that some of the guys did not read the guidelines carefully in my ad. We had several 30-somethings show up. They seemed to be strutting around because they were the “young guys” and had not yet reached the XXXL size gym short classification at Wal-Mart. These guys had more energy, lung capacity, leaping ability and hair. This wasn’t going to be the cakewalk I had anticipated.
Austin Thomas, our generous host (and darned good basketball player) allowed us to assemble early on Saturday mornings at his gym. Apparently, my biorhythms aren’t in synch before 9 a.m. on the weekend, because I did not play like Kobe Bryant, as expected. I played more like Anita Bryant (and she’s been dead for years now).
To my surprise, there are several mid-lifers who “still got game” as the kids might say. I have always considered myself a very gifted basketball player. What I lacked in size I always made up for with scrappiness, wily court awareness and “mad hops.” Or, have I long been living a slice of revisionist self-history with my basketball legend only growing in my mind?
Turns out — Ray McKeithan, basketball player — not too good.
By inviting only aging men, I just knew I was going to dominate over those out of shape old dudes. I failed to consider I’m an old man now, too. Just doesn’t seem fair.
I have been grasping desperately at a false self-image of my skills and my physique. Not only was I a no-playing basketball fool, I was the shortest and fattest guy on the court. I learned that the McDonalds-fed body type is not ideal for basketball.
Yes, I cut quite the figure these days. That figure? A circle. I must have looked like a beach ball at a concert getting bounced around on that basketball court.
One-minute into the very first game, I wondered, “What in the heck have I gotten myself into?” I couldn’t just quit and walk away; I was the commissioner of this new basketball league! After running the length of the court twice, I stood in a puddle of sweat with my hands on my knees, huffing and puffing like one of the three little pigs.
There. That’s it … the best description of my basketball persona: A nursery rhyme character … not even a human one at that. *
What had I done? This was supposed to be fun! If I needed humiliation, I could have just gone to work or to a family reunion! I had organized this thing for FUN on the weekend. As Charlie Brown (also a better basketball player than I) would say:“Aaaarrrrgggggghhhh!”
With no choice but to persevere, I continued “playing.” Very quickly, the ball stopped coming to me. Sure, I was still standing in my mid-court puddle, but SOMEONE could have thrown the ball to me. Was that TOO much to ask? I shouted, “I’m open! I’m open! I’m open!” until one of my teammates got frustrated: “Ray, idiot! We’re on DEFENSE!”
I eventually found my breath, and my game. That’s when I took over. I revealed a brand of take-charge basketball not previously seen in the annals of round ball history. I started streaking to the basket — because nobody felt the need to guard me — took a great pass from a sympathetic teammate and proceeded to miss a wide-open lay-up.
In a row.
I was deeply embarrassed. Even my teammates were laughing at me. I had found my purpose: comic relief. I had gone from a once-proud basketball player to one of the guys … who played on the team … that played the Harlem Globetrotters.
We played for several more weeks, but the number of players dwindled as ankle sprains, tendon tears and uncontrolled elbows had taken their toll. I eventually faked a “bad calf muscle tear” and thereby unofficially resigned my unofficial position as commissioner of the league. I never showed my face again.
I still have fond memories of the “league,” and a good-as-new pair of high-top sneakers that must feel as abandoned as the players of the WTOTBPBA.
*As pointed out by a proofreader, it was actually the Big Bad Wolf that huffed and puffed. The columnist chose not to correct the reference — with apologies to the wolf — because a little pig is way funnier.