There comes a time in every professional athlete’s career when they lose it. Now, this obviously isn’t something that happens overnight. You don’t get on a plane in Phoenix with the ability to take three dribbles from half-court, absorb contact, and dunk over a 7’0” giraffe, and get off the plane with creaky knees and a shaky jump shot. It’s a gradual process. However, there’s always a specific moment where the realization kicks in. Maybe it’s a series, or a game, or even just one play. The Star, like he has so many times in his career, steps up to the plate/brings the ball up the court/gathers his team in the huddle, and everyone in the stadium knows how it’s going to end. They’ve seen it countless times before. Except this time, the script turns on its head. The Star is a millisecond behind on a fastball from some 21-year old Venezuelan flamethrower and strikes out, or he gets his pocket picked for a fast break dunk by Andrew Wiggins. Whatever it is, the reaction is the same: the fans are shocked, the teammates are shaken, reporters spew out their #HotTakes, and The Star is left to figure out what the hell just happened.
In this story, I am The Star (feel free to apply the term loosely). And the sport here isn’t really a sport, it’s something all of us participate in: “going out.” I turned 26 on Saturday, and the plan was simple: golf in the morning, dinner and drinks with my closest friends, and then a night out on the town. It’s a script that’s been followed by many before me, and will continue to be done by those after. The weekend started innocently enough. A couple of my buddies came down to my new apartment in the city and we took advantage of the abnormally gorgeous weather (It’s Philly. People will break out the shorts and tank tops when we cross over 50 degrees). Happy hour turned into happy hours, and beers turned into tequila shots and something called a LeBomb James (grenadine, crown, and Sprite. Take shot, clap sugar in air, make everyone hate you. Just like LeBron). I wake up the next morning with one contact in, my clothes on, and cradling a half-eaten cheesesteak.
With a 10 a.m. tee time staring me squarely in the face, I go through the usual recovery routine of shower and GWAC (Gatorade, Weed, Advil, Coffee). As I sit on my bed struggling to put together pieces of the prior night/figure out how the hell I’m going to play 18 holes, a grin slowly crept across my face; this is what we do. It’s exactly what being young and in your 20s and having some money to throw around is all about. I harken back to one of my dad’s go to quotes: “If you want to hoot with the owls, you better be able to fly with the eagles.” With a pep in my step, I head out to the course to meet the rest of the crew.
I wish you could have seen the murderers row that had dragged their sorry carcasses out of bed. I wouldn’t have trusted us on a mini-golf course, let alone one of the nicer clubs South Jersey. I won’t bore you with the details of the round, but we explored every square inch of that course. At one point, me and my partner combined for a 20 on a par 5, not managing to get on any type of grass shorter than 1 inch until our 8th shots landed on the green. I will point out, the level of sobriety in our group remained high throughout the round; this should have been a warning sign of things to come. One of our staples is to cure the hangover with some sun, gambling, and cold domestic light beers. Not this time.
After golf, everyone went their separate ways with plans to meet later at my place before heading to dinner. One of my friends who lives near me came over early, and as we sat on my couch watching SVU reruns, we started talking about the night ahead. I cracked open a beer, put on Views, and tried to rally. This was my turning point. My swing-and-a-miss/hanging a throw on an out route that the cornerback jumps because the arm strength isn’t quite there anymore/drive to the rim that gets swatted into the third row. I reached down into my tank, like I always did, to hit that 6th gear. And it just wasn’t there. My engine came sputtering to a halt. I turned to my friend and threw out a feeler. “I don’t know if I can do this tonight, man.” The wave of relief on his face was all I needed to see. We sent out texts to the rest of the group, and got the same response. We were done; forks stuck in us at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
We ended up going to see a movie, and I happily stuffed my face with buttery popcorn and a Slushee. As I watched Captain America and Iron Man pound each other’s faces in, I reflected on the fact that my “playing career” was entering a completely different phase.
There’s two paths a player can go down when this happens. They can keep trying to play like their younger selves and fade away. Or they reinvent their game to suit their declining physical skills. I may not be able to party like I used to, but I’m a wily vet at this point. Like Kobe developing a post game once his athleticism slipped and he went on to two NBA titles, I’m going back to the lab to reinvent my game. I can’t go 100 mph anymore. I need to pick my spots, take good shots, set up my teammates, and do the little things required to win. And don’t worry, there will be times here and there where you’ll find me out on a Saturday night, and you’ll see glimpses of the Old Me. Announcers refer to it as a “vintage performance,” where it looks like the Former Star went into a time machine. So if you happen to catch me on one of those nights, come by, say hi, and buy me a drink. I’ll be ready to run.
Or I could just go the Barry Bonds route, pump my body full of illegal supplements and blow away the competition way longer than I should. I have a 3-day guys trip coming up in one month to Austin, so if anyone there has a solid Adderall connection (I’m too soft to do coke) hit me up. For you young folks out there, keep running and pushing the pace. It helps us old-heads know when it’s time to pass the torch..
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