Covid-19 hasn’t only forced schools, gyms, parks and health clubs to shut down, it put an end to what hoopsters on every level throughout the city cherish: their “run.”
Doesn’t matter where. Tillary Street Park in Brooklyn on Saturday mornings, longtime friends 30 to 40 years old still pounding, arguing over calls, running five on five. Lawyer and banker white collar leagues at the Reebok Club on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Gifted late teens and comers at Lincoln Park in Queens, West 4th in Lower Manhattan, Gun Hill Road in the Bronx, doing battle in the early evenings. Nowadays — or at least the days before the pandemic — with refs, sponsors and even scoreboards.
Teachers, brokers, old-timers conspiring to pay off janitors at public schools to get inside for their Saturday morning run.
That combination of the old and the new, the has-beens with the never-was, with everyone trying to get better. Some real with the skills, some still stuck in their comforting fantasies. All of them in love, not merely with the escape and competition, but the joy of being there, together, sharing what New Yorkers are trained to do: make the extra pass, set the screen, don’t “chuck.”
It’s the embrace of the round ball, the first bounce, the metal or glass backboards, the hole in the fence and orange rim that is so familiar. The sweat matters, but not as much as the language when it’s over, “see ya next week.”
Go away Covid, will ya? We get it.
In “Fauci We Trust.” But with the N.B.A. making plans to return, we need some good news, too.
We’ll put on masks, we’ll wash our hands. We don’t play much defense on the run anyway, so Mr. Mayor — all 6-5 of you — creating distance isn’t that much of an issue.
While we wait for “next,” we promise to honor the six-feet rule. Our wives, husbands, and maybe even our kids, will show some worry, and tell us to bring hand wipes, as they quietly usher us out the door, secretly relieved.
They know hoopsters live for the run.
My three sons are lucky. In our Long Island hideaway, they get to shoot outside on the basket which was the selling point for the house. They know they are the minority. Almost everyone else is stuck. I remember as if it were yesterday, living in a one-bedroom, one-bath, Castro convertible pullout on Brighton 7th Street, and feeling trapped inside. Oh God, I would go crazy feeling so trapped right now.
I think of kids I’ve coached, Kareem from South Shore, Ibrahim from Mount St. Michael’s, Quran from Christ the King, begging to go out. Ballers need to dribble, to practice their moves, to repeat, to talk it, touch it, to share, laugh, pretend, to work.
Yeah sure, “The Last Dance,” the playoff reruns, NBA TV … OK, nice, but all of that is just a distraction from the real deal.
At 70, my body and mind are permanently separated: knees, L4, L5, shoulders, surgeries. I can’t run, jump or shoot for a lick anymore. Yet, I see the openings, “just fake him, go left and in.”
Last week, all stretched out, feeling pretty good, I got out for a game of 2-on-2, me and the three sons. We go with “Brooklyn rules.” Straight seven, win by two, take it behind the line except if you miss everything. And if you call a foul it better be obvious.
I have to rough Luke up or else he’ll destroy me. He starts to complain to the oldest, Jake, that he’s not seeing the ball. He tries to make a call, “no way,” I shout.
We win the first, 10-8, we win the second, 7-4.
I am limited to my role: set screens for Sam, pass, box out. I’m not sinking a basket while Sam scores them all: long J’s, runners, tough drives from both sides, except, except the cruncher, the last one. I post up, turn around, it hits the rim, bounces up, in, from 15 feet: game, set, match, run.
The kids are eager to get back to life. We children of 40, 50, 60, 70 years old are itching to get back too. We want to run.
Dan Klores is a Peabody Award-winning filmmaker who directed the documentary, “Basketball: a Love Story.”