Ten years ago, I could dunk a basketball. Not just some flimsy excuse for a one-handed white boy tip in either. Your boy could throw down with authority. I’m talking two handers, reverses, and the occasional well-thrown alley-oop. It was a neat gift I was given at the age of 13 and it carried me to some athletic success over the next half a decade.
That success didn’t just shape my early years. It defined me as a person. Any problems or potential pitfalls were easily overcome because I could almost literally jump over them. I was stunningly cocky. My AIM screename was johnnygothopz88 for Chrissakes. Yeah, with a z, because I was from the big bad streets of the Chicago suburbs. I deserved what I had coming.
I walked on to a D1 track team my freshman year of college with the intent of becoming one of the best high jumpers in the Big East. My athletic career quickly came to a crashing demise when my hip and low back gave out and the school doctor told me point blank, “You can jump for the next three years, or you can walk for the next 60. Your choice.” I wasn’t ready to open a school for mutants so I chose the latter.
So now at the age of 18, I was no longer JR the athlete. I was just JR the person. As anybody who played competitive sports at a high level or even ANY level can attest, being a person fucking sucks.
I have the hip mobility of a 70-year-old woman. Everywhere I go that requires more than an hour of sitting or standing you’ll find my big dumb head doing this.
Whenever somebody sees me doing one of my stupid yoga poses in public and asks how I hurt myself, I stick to old sports injury because “Irrevocable repetitive impact damage from trying NBA Street tricks on a slanted concrete driveway” is too much of a mouthful.
Nowadays I’ll throw my back out by stepping off a curb that was higher than I originally thought. Flying on an airplane is one of the worst things I can do. And I do THAT all the fucking time. Sex is beyond difficult. I have to signal for the ump to call time and step out of the batters box every other inning. I have to fight back withering comments when coworkers talk about coed softball or how well they did in their men’s basketball league the night before. The worst part is that I PLAY in those men’s leagues too. And I’m terrible.
I find myself hating people who talk about how good they used to be at sports while also occasionally being one of them. Not for my ego, more just to remind myself it happened. I still crave the limelight. I miss putting failure or defeat on my own shoulders and doing it in front of a group of people. That’s 100% why I’m a stand-up comic.
Someone asked me recently if it was worth it. Were a few meaningless years of success when I was a young athlete enough to help me deal with the residual effects now? I say ‘probably not’ out loud but know that if I had a choice I wouldn’t do it again much differently. I know I’m just contributing to a sea of clichés that belong in a Bruce Springsteen song. I know a washed up athlete when I see one. I see one every day in the mirror.
I can still dunk, though. .
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