This past May, I began a new exercise routine. Basketball. I have a hoop and backboard on my garage outside. I play half-court. And I play only against myself.
Basically, I go out there and see how many shots I can make out of 100. It takes about 20 minutes to do this. I dribble around, do big looping hook shots, one handers from the outside, layups. In many ways, I look like just another dad in the community, but in this case, the kids are grown. So I am out there by myself.
Playing basketball is good for your reflexes, your depth perception, eye-hand coordination, wind, a certain craftiness, strength and stamina. It’s also good for your brain. Before I started doing this, I had a terrible memory. Now I remember everything again. Scary.
It’s also good for competitiveness. I keep score. I see how many shots I can make. Early on, out of 100 shots, I could make perhaps 10. But I got better. Soon I was shooting 20 per 100, and by July, 35. Three weeks ago, in a golden moment, I shot 62 out of 100. It was an amazing feeling. Since that time, I have topped 50 just twice more. So in the last 60 days I have had three experiences over .500.
At that point, I thought I might try keeping score by playing one team against another. Years ago, when I was younger, I played half-court like this by myself in an imaginary game that pitted the Knicks against the Nets.
The Knicks would get a rebound, dribble to behind the key, try a three pointer, miss, and then I’d run in and get the rebound for the Nets. Or, sometimes, I’d run in and try to tap it in for the Knicks. A rambling commentary would go on in my head, led primarily by Marv Albert, the Knicks longtime announcer, and by the crowd, which sometimes was behind one team or the other, and always would let out a roar for a three pointer or for a big, arching hook that would swish through the net.
Personally, I rooted for the Nets in those games. They were a lousier team in real life at that time, but when they played the Knicks in my backyard, the usual winner was the Nets, led by the sensational playing of Jason Kidd.
Often I’d hear this. “And Jason Kidd steals the ball!” both from Marv Albert on television or from my head in my backyard in Springs.
Anyway, due to an injury I sustained while playing this game on ice, I was out of action for the last decade. Now I’m back. And my early point-counting—counting shots made against total shots attempted—was designed to slow myself down in my head and take it a bit easier. Without Marv and without the crowd, I wasn’t quite so excitable.
I did think to go back to the Knicks and the Nets. And I decided to do that, but in order not to get carried away with my recent success, just consider a missed shot two points for the Knicks and a made shot two points for the Nets. How much trouble could I get in with that? Well, maybe not physical trouble, but it would be a stretch for the Nets to win. Think about it. In 60 days, I had scored more than half the shots only three times.
This will be a big challenge for you, my boy, the voice in my head said. You seem to be getting up over 40 with some regularity. It’s possible.
The first time I tried this, the Knicks went into an early lead, but then the Nets caught back up and nosed ahead. At that point, I think it was 16 to 14. But then I started missing two, three, four in a row, and the next time I took a breath, the Knicks were ahead 44 to 38. After that, I simply missed one shot after another until the end. Final score: Knicks 62, Nets 38.
The next day, the Knicks won 77 to 23. Something was seriously wrong. This was the fewest shots I had made in 100 since June.
I thought, well, we’ll try again tomorrow and see how it goes, but when the Knicks pulled ahead 16 to 4 in the early going, I had coach Jason Kidd, the real coach of the Nets now, call a time-out. In that time-out, I fired the team. I told them they couldn’t possibly play this badly against the Knicks three times in a row, and so who must be out there was a high school team.
At first I thought to imagine the East Hampton High School boys basketball team out there, but then I knew I could not do this to them. Instead, I imagined a Texas high school basketball team, a group of five boys who had won the state title and were all fired up. Could they beat the Knicks? Absolutely not. But maybe once? Maybe once, say out of ten tries? I thought they could.
So we continued on now as a high school basketball team, complete with cheerleaders and a lusty, vocal crowd here in Madison Square Garden, trying to do the impossible. One of them shot. Swish! Marv Albert wasn’t there, it was somebody else. But now the Knicks took the lead 16 to 6. I missed the next shot and the next, but then I swished again from the outside and made the next three. It was 18 to 10. If only the Midland Warriors could come close. Could they do it? They could not.
I just kept missing. And as the Knicks pulled away once again, putting the game well out of reach, I went in for a layup and made it, and something snapped.
The Knicks were standing to one side, looking down and laughing at me, laughing at these kids, because they had just let them come through for an easy layup.
That’s it, I said. And I closed the game out without further effort. Final score: Knicks 78, the Midland Warriors 22. This was never gonna happen.
The next day, and since then, I’ve been back shooting against myself, one point for a shot in, one point a shot missed. Last Wednesday, I shot 48 out of 100.
And then last Thursday, in real life, the Knicks played the Nets at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Both teams have dismal records, and so I thought it could be a good match up. Indeed, the Barclays Center was packed, hoping Jason Kidd could get a team out there and in real life knock the Knicks’ block off. They could not. The final score was Knicks 113, Nets 83. The crowd booed as the Nets left the arena. I’ve got to think that if the Knicks had not slaughtered both the Nets and the Midland (Texas) High School Warriors the day before, they would not have been so dominant on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.