Hoops and Buckets

by Jason D. Johnson

A few years back when I was still running a retirement community, I would rise every morning and drive to a local church to play basketball.  It was five in the morning, so only the most dedicated of hardwood junkies would show up.  This made the games incredibly competitive day in and day out.  Usually we’d have enough guys (and sometimes gals) to split into four teams across two full courts.  We’d square off with winners eventually playing winners and losers playing losers.

Those games have little significance in my memory now except for three things:  1)  getting royally embarrassed on one particular ball fake  2)  being in the best shape of my life and  3)  the oldest player running the court with us.

We had one person of advanced age that manned center for someone’s team almost every single day.  He had balky knees, was the last one up the court, and didn’t exactly pivot with Hakeem Olajuwon speed.  However, he also was virtually unstoppable once he got the ball in his hands in the post.  The reason for this was two fold.  First, despite his knees he kept himself in great shape.  His body was solid and when he combined that with his height, you couldn’t move the man.  Second and most importantly, he had experience on the rest of us.  He gave more thought to his fakes.   Gave more consideration to his passing options.   He recognized things that he’d seen unfold for years on a court and used them to his advantage.  Us younger guys hadn’t experienced enough.  And he wasn’t apologetic about bulldozing you for a lay-in or bumping you to create space.  He was a joy to play with and a challenge to play against every day at 5a.

He was the first one I thought of this week when I saw a small article in the AARP Bulletin about Donald Wiberg.  Donald is a 76-year old engineering professor who tried out for the Santa Cruz Warriors (a D-league team for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors).  Donald stated at the tryouts, “I can’t say that I can run, jump or shoot because I can’t.  But for a guy that can’t run, jump or shoot, I’m a decent passer and I’ll get in there and mix it up.”  You can see Donald and read more about him here.

The term “bucket list” has become a fairly catchy buzzword the last few years.  Ever since Jack and Morgan teamed up in Hollywood, people all over the country have been scribing things down that they’d like to do before they are disabled or die.  Donald scratched the last one off his list at 76 years of age, but something tells me he’ll find a few other things to add to it.  Bucket lists are great for giving retirees a goal and something to accomplish.  When we retire from the workplace, most of what filled our minds and challenged them daily is removed.  Without that challenge…without tasks…without goals…our minds begin to suffer.  Bucket lists can fill that void.

That said, bucket lists are of little use if you haven’t taken care of your body during the process of aging.  If you’ve given up exercise, good food, adequate water intake, and the like, you can have a bucket list, but it won’t do you any good in the long run.  It takes a combination of consistent mental stimulation and physical maintenance (improvement) to age well.  So “retirement” shouldn’t be a retirement from all the things that are necessary to live a healthy and long life.  You still need to fix your eyes on goals other than a recliner or a shade tree.  A ball and some high-tops might be a good place to start.

If so, Donald Wiberg and I will see you on the hardwood.

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