(is this what the end of one's playing career looks like?)
I've wondered about my mortality a lot lately. After dominating a few underdeveloped young college students at the local 24 Hour Fitness, my feet were aching and my calves cramped up as I went in for a layup. I landed awkwardly from my tomahawk dunk in traffic...er.. flip shot from 3 feet out...and was slow to get up as one of my calves cramped up HARD. One of the kids gave me a funny look, nicely asking me "Are you okay?" but telling me the obvious: "You look like you're limping." I'm obviously talking about my basketball mortality here.
As my 30th birthday creeps close and my joints and waist line fight against the nostalgia and memory of myself playing ball at 25 when I'm on the courts now, I've begin to think more and more about the significance of health and training in ways that never crossed my mind before..or rather, I've begun to realize that I may never play basketball again competitively. "Stretching" was never part of my (basketball) vocabulary. In high school and the earlier years in college before the late night burrito runs down when I was living in San Diego, I used to just lace up and try to get in on the next game. But does the idea ever cross your mind that you may never play basketball ever again? Not that basketball will somehow magically disappear from the face of the earth, but that it is a game that is just physically impossible to play once you reach a certain age? When I was younger I played ball to exercise, but nowadays I exercise to play ball.
I can't take credit for this perspective on basketball exercise-ology; I am basically interpreting it from a TrueHoop piece from October 29, 2009, titled "Memo to the Aging Baller."
TrueHoop reader John, in Canada, recently had his doctor tell him something a little bit sobering.
At his age, says the doctor, instead of playing basketball to stay in shape, he ought to start staying in shape to play basketball.
The memo there is something along the lines of: If you don't put some special effort in, you're going to age out of the game.
Getting old is a part of life and often times, for men at least, age makes you more appealing (see George Clooney, he rocks grey hair better than no other). But in professional sports or sports in general, it's probably the inverse. In almost every great basketball player's career we've witnessed, it was as if they suddenly transformed from a chariot into a pumpkin over the course of an off-season. To quote Heidi Klum's line from Project Runway, "One day you're in, the next day you're out." And in the last two years maybe, the amount of working out it has taken me to even get close to being ‘basketball ready' has exponentially increased and recovery times between playing each time has also increased. This particular article, short and somewhat obvious to the average person I suppose, provides some important tips for y'all older folks like myself (by NBA basketball standards) on how to extend your basketball life-span, hopefully without compromising the amount of fun you get out of it, or remember getting out of it. Here is a snippet that really resonated with me:
You must support your training program with good recovery strategies to help achieve the gains. Overtraining will lead to injury and decreases or plateaus in training ... so make sure to cycle heavier and lighter training loads and build in recovery strategies and rest into your program.
What??? You mean I can't play everyday anymore, especially if parts of my body hurt that I never knew could hurt while playing basketball like the crease where my forearm meets my bicep?
In a somewhat related article from TrueHoop this past week,J. Adande's article titled "NBA shuffles into All-Star Crossroads" touches upon a possible reason for extending the minimum age requirements for NBA. Whereas most arguments are about preserving the financial success of the college game, ESPN contributor J.A. Adande makes the case that it could help players in the long-run, health-wise and, by extension, financially. The premise behind Adande's argument is that the human body, possibly, has a finite amount of jumping and that the sooner young men join the NBA, the sooner their basketball "biological" clock, so to speak, starts ticking. That is, by playing fewer games in the college season, you're able to extend your shelf life drastically, possibly earning you more contracts (he cites McGrady and Jermaine O'Neal as posterchilds of how starting your career early can backfire because of injurites). Of course Adande's argument isn't necessarily sound given the multiple exceptions to the rule, but it offers some useful tidbits for thinking about, again, basketball mortality. These two articles provided some sobering messages about the possibility of basketball, as a game, being out of my life, forever, as it's become harder and harder for me to stay fit and to do things like making layups, which seems almost impossible sometimes. From these arguments provided in these two articles, is there ever an "end" to to the average man or woman's "basketball career"? If we can no longer play at the level that we once remembered being able to play at, do we just stop playing to avoid embarrassment? Or do we modify our game and become Michael Finleys? OR do we discipline ourselves like Steve Nash (his no-sugar diet) and continue to improve and dominate the youngsters (on offense, not defense)? Is Steve Nash the paragon for what all of us as athletes (or wannabe athletes) should strive for after our thirties?
For you old fogies like myself who are looking more like Tracy McGrady versus say someone like Kobe who just got a fatty contract extension, what are your thoughts about basketball mortality? Any tips? Any struggles?