The ball scrambles out of bounds and I take the moment to bend down and tie my shoe strings. They, like me, have slowly become undone as the game has progressed. It has been about a year since I was on the court and it is showing; I am sweating like it pays the rent and my lungs feel like someone called in a Napalm airstrike. While the ball is being recovered I am allowed a small moment to collect myself.
The pace of the game is relentless. Even at the worst of times it is hard to keep up with the fast breaks and quick passing of the opposing team. I am struggling to cover ground as quickly as I once did, my shots are forced, my passing is neither incisive nor creative, and I do not drive to the hoop as aggressively as I should be. It has been a while since I have been in the game and you can tell. My bounce is erratic, it stutters instead of flowing. It should be smooth and confident, it should be frustrating to the other team; every bounce must be a countdown to inevitability; every bounce must be the death stroke.
The first few games left me in shambles. The most obvious passes would float past me, I would commit to the slightest provocation, each time leaving my man to dribble unchallenged to the hoop. But, slowly my reflexes began to return, my intuition sharpened and I began to spot the old patterns: the picks and rolls, the weaves and cuts, and the blind passes to the third runner, and the hope-sapping fade-away jump shots. I began to contribute to my team not by putting up baskets, but by relentlessly hounding the opposition, pressing and harrying, running and scrambling, and fighting for every ball. Slowly, I got back into the game. Slowly.
The court is a place where statements are made. Some are made by the cocky sideline acts waiting for a game, the dismissed. The noisiest are made by the preening peacocks in the branded haute couture and the shiny new sneakers. The loudest statements, though, are made by the quiet metronomes whose shots arch effortlessly, ghosting through the nets, silencing the crowd, calling up the next challengers. It has been a while since I have made statements like that. I used to be pretty good at making silent statements. I was not prolific, but when I was in the zone or with the right team it was pretty annoying to come up against me. But that was a year ago, my voice has become raspy without practice.
My shoe strings are finally tied; I stand up and square up with the man I am marking. He is a big guy, he has at least a head and a half on me. We jostle each other, battling to assert our presence over the other. The ball is retrieved and thrown back in bounds. The point guard drills a pass to my man. Without thinking I shove him out of the way with my shoulder, grunting with the effort. I catch the ball and bounce it once. Then I bounce it again.
My team is on the attack. I have the ball. I have to say something with it.
Let’s see if I can find my voice.