I was recently attending a church function for my 7-year-old son on a weeknight when a couple of neighborhood friends asked me a bizarre question.
“Do you want to play basketball with us tonight?”
Laughter and a “Thanks, but no thanks” response.
They didn’t take no for an answer. My ward (local church congregation in the LDS community) had a game that night and we didn’t have enough guys to form a team without me. Truth of the matter is, the Rose Canyon Fourth Ward Elders Quorum team probably would have been better with four guys than with five guys if I was one of the five.
I’m 5-foot-8 — this is sports we’re talking about, so I can round up — and weigh a whole lot more than I did when I tore it up for the Kearns 34th Ward back in the day. OK, I didn’t exactly tear it up unless you count the incident where they had to replace part of our gym’s carpet because of battery acid I accidentally spilled on the floor. (By the way, carpeted gyms was an ugly blight on the history of the Mormon church, but that’s a story for another blog.)
I didn’t have any plans after my son’s event and my friends (so-called friends) persisted after I thought they were just joking around.
My left foot is mostly healed from the last time I attempted to play basketball. In September, I tore the plantar fascia tendon during the Utah Jazz’s Media Day Training Camp, an annual event Jazz coaches host to remind reporters how lousy we are at the sport we write and talk about.
In a moment of extreme weakness — and because I’m feeling much better overall, my foot and overall health — I caved into peer pressure.
“You really need me to play?”
“Fine. Just guarantee me at least 25 shots, no defensive commitment, protective equipment to shield me from flying elbows — this is church ball, after all — no church callings or teaching assignments for a year and an oxygen mask, and I’ll show up.”
At least all of that was implied when I sighed and reluctantly and nervously told them, “Yes, but I have to run home to get my shorts on after this meeting.”
An hour later, I was doing something I hadn’t done for three decades — awkwardly making out in the back of a dark theater with a girl who somehow ignored the smell of stale Polo cologne.
Oops, wrong memory. Sorry. Where was I? Oh yes …
I’ve lost a lot of weight in the past 10 months, but I haven’t exercised much. I’ve lost most of my fat through an awesome nutrition program. I say this not to brag — OK, to brag a little — but to point out the fact that I’m still horribly out of shape even if my overall health has drastically improved.
It didn’t matter to my friends. They were legitimately happy that I was there and/or that our ward didn’t start off its season with a forfeit. Spoiler alert: The Rose Canyon Fourth Ward didn’t start off the season with a win, either, but at least we didn’t forfeit.
I made my first warm-up free throw, and I joked that I should probably call it a night with that swish.
When the game started, I was out there on the court with the Jazz shorts I got at media training camp and with a leftover 2005 Deseret News All-State basketball shirt. (I was hoping to intimidate my opponents with my impressive basketball gear. It clearly happened because they didn’t even dare guard me on the perimeter.)
I don’t want to sound cocky when I write about my performance in that game, so let’s tell the truth. I was awful. Truly awful. I passed the ball to No. 3 on the other team about 10 times. I celebrated when I hit the rim on one of my horribly missed shots. I scored as many points as I had in the three previous decades combined when I didn’t even consider playing basketball. (That’s zero points for those of you who aren’t good at math or who forgot that I hadn’t hooped it up in about 30 years.)
James Naismith would have tried to invent a different sport instead of throwing a ball into a peach basket had he seen my version of his sport at the Springfield YMCA back in the 1890s.
To sum up my experience: IT WAS AWESOME!!!
My friends were incredibly supportive.
“Isn’t this cool!?” Jeff, excited that I’ve dropped so much weight, exclaimed to me at one point in the game even though it was clear by then why I write about basketball and don’t play it for a living.
Well, Jeff, it was painful — and continued to be for a few days — but, OK, it was definitely cool.
All of my teammates were super supportive. Guys from the other team whom I’d told how long it’d been since I last played were great, too, and not just because I could’ve been their team’s MVP for all of the times I turned the ball over to them.
My wife’s friend recently left a quote on one of her Facebook posts. It was simple but thought-provoking.
The best time to plant an oak tree was 40 years ago. The next best time is now.
While I missed my chance to become an All-Star player in the NBA by not playing for decades — despite my unique skill set of being short, slow and lousy — it feels incredible to embrace opportunities to really live, move, play, try new (old) things and be happy again.
I can’t go back in time and plant that oak tree — or change my past — but I do have a second chance here to grow something special even if it includes imperfections.
It’s taken a long time, but I love being back in the game. (I’m also loving that I’ve lost 21 pounds — TWENTY-ONE POUNDS — since Jan. 1.)
To borrow Jeff’s question, “Isn’t this cool!?”
- Starting weight (March 6): 373.7 pounds
- New Year’s Day weight (Jan. 1): 262.0
- Last week’s weight (Jan. 6): 248.9
- This week’s weight (Jan. 6): 241.2
- This week’s loss: 7.7 pounds
- Total loss: 132.5 pounds