I know it’s going to happen when you look at the players. You are going to feel really old when you see these baby-faced, fart-pushers running up and down the court like gazelles; pure, adrenaline-powered gazelles handling the basketball as if it were part of their body. It really is poetry in physical motion.
So, I expect to feel old looking at them. But their coach? That’s asking too much. That’s exactly what happened when I watched a television interview with Butler University’s head basketball coach, Brad Stevens. He’s a baby!
He has brought his team to the Final Four for the second year in a row. Obviously, he’s a helluva coach. But this is not a sports’ column. It’s an age column.
You do have to give him, his players, and the school credit, however. You don’t just keep winning because you’re lucky. Or you have the best players. Or you get easy opponents. Actually, all of those things don’t hurt, but you keep winning because you work harder, practice longer, study more diligently, and fuse an isolated mentality into a unified one. None of that is easy.
In addition to the two Final Fours, the 34-year-old Stevens also has an incredible record of 116-24 in his four seasons at Butler. The Bulldogs have also won three Horizon League tournaments under his watch. You do have to give him credit. But this is not a sports’ column. It’s an age column.
And since this is an age column, I do have to tell you my age. I am 60-years-old. That may not impress you, but it impresses the hell out of me. As the old joke goes: “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would’ve taken better care of myself.” I don’t believe for a minute I would have, actually but it’s a nice sentiment.
Also, I played basketball. I loved playing basketball. Being white, I really couldn’t jump. No lie. But what I could do was shoot. And having a shooter’s mentality, I shot all the time. Missed many more than I made, but I did make some of ’em.
One such made went unnoticed. It didn’t win a championship, other than my right to stay on the court. I ruled the court that day. No question about that.
Here’s how it went down: The score was tied. Obviously. Well, I need to back track just a bit. This was one-on-one on an outside court; playground basketball. Nothing finer. I am not only white, but I am short. I am quick. That’s true. But I can’t jump and I am short.
My opponent was not white. Not short and could touch the top of the backboard. He most assuredly could jump. But as I said, I could shoot. And sometimes I got hot. Sometimes, as I said, I would get hot. And on this late afternoon, on this cracked black top, with a small smattering of tired, armchair basketball enthusiasts watching, I got hot. Oh yes, I did.
Outside: Swish! Top of the key: swish! From the corner, swish! Top of the arc, again, swish! Even a surprise drive to the basket, banked off the backboard and through the hoop.
As the sun dipped behind the surrounding buildings, and as previously mentioned, the score was tied. Next basket wins. I had it out. I took it to the hole, feinted right, then left, stopped, rose up as if I was going to nail another jumper from the top of the key. He went for it, leaving his feet, and that’s all I needed. I drove by him. He was much faster than me, however, so my passing him was short-lived.
He was on me as I stretched out my hand as far as humanely possible. His outstretched hand was nearly in front of mine. It looked like it was going to be a clean block. I stretch a little further. As far as I could. Then, with a flip of the wrist, I let go of the ball. It careened off the backboard, hitting the top of the rim, popping straight up into the night air, and dropped straight back down through the net. Game over. I won.
As I said, this is not a sport’s column. It is an age column. But if this was a sports’ column, that game was one for the ages.