Rich LaRocco

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'Old School' Basketball

by Rich LaRocco

If you decide to continue playing recreational basketball past the normal age of retirement, you'll probably pick up a nickname indicative of your age. When I first formed a commercial city league team so that my son and a couple of his friends could gain experience by playing older and better players, I was able to find a few players who were my age or older. But within a few years I was the oldest guy still playing, and that's when one of my son's friends, Jim Morse, gave me the moniker Old School. Jim, who has since become a close friend of mine as well, meant it partly as a compliment because the name implies that I practice basketball fundamentals.

At the time I was relieved that he didn't saddle me with Pops or Gramps, but now that my son and his pals are past their athletic prime and most of them have children of their own, I would have no problem with those names. What's scary is that the youngsters of the early '90s are on the verge of getting their own nicknames indicating veteran status.

Every year I wonder whether I will be able to continue playing or whether the inevitable infirmities of advancing age will put an end to one of my favorite activities. Many younger players have succumbed to bad knees, partially separated shoulders, bum elbows, ruptured disks and the like, and this old Energizer Bunny just keeps on going and going. So far – knock on the wooden floor at my local church gym – I've been able to continue playing. Admittedly, I'm never the best player on the floor, but I can make up for some of my weaknesses in subtle ways that experience has taught me.

The advantages of continuing to play far outweigh quitting at this point. Getting to know new people and making new friends is at the forefront. Keeping my body in good enough condition that I can hike up a mountain is a good reason to keep playing ball. It also keeps my bad back loose. And it's just plain fun. I love the teamwork that basketball requires, the individual skills and the satisfaction of making a clutch shot, making a good pass or making a good defensive play. I love watching and sometimes helping younger players improve and gain confidence. I love trying to improve my own game.

One of my fantasies is to run into John Stockton at some big public gym where he and I could challenge some younger players in a game of pickup basketball. In my dream the youngsters would not recognize the greatest true point guard ever to play the game. Wouldn't that be fun to watch him school the youngsters? And how would it be to get the ball when you wanted it and where you wanted it?

When my friend Kerry Smithson sent the following video to me recently, I was reminded of my fantasy pickup game. Enjoy.