My first year in college I did nothing in the evenings but play basketball. I was the last man to be cut from my high school team and so I never really got my fill of the game and you might say that I carried a little bit of a grudge about the matter.
I was slight of build then, but tall enough and fairly quick and with pretty good jumping ability – what he kids now call “hops.” I loved the anonymity of the pick-up-game culture that prevailed in the field house back then. I would thumb, walk or take an inter-campus bus to the gym, already dressed to play, and then walk right into that famous, million-dollar arena like the place had been built for me and sit under one of the baskets and watch the game going on – there were always games going on – and wait for someone there to pick me up. Point a finger and say “You. Come on.” What I loved was getting picked by some good player from out of state who didn’t know my past, didn’t know I never played high-school ball, and based what he’d seen me do the night and week before, he’d pick me over guys who had started at Triple A high schools in the state. It was the closest I ever got to paybacks.
I’d play all night. Leave the gym when they turned the lights off at ten o’clock on week nights. I’d be soaked, of course, my tee-shirt dark with sweat and hair dripping. And sore and sometimes stoved or cut, but who cared. There was something about spending all that energy and feeling all that emotion that left me in the deepest state of relaxation I’ve ever experienced.
I never knew any of those guy’s names, but when I’d see one of them somewhere on campus, we’d nod at one another like members of some secret society.