When it comes to basketball, some great shooters retain their touch. Bill Littlefield recently had lunch with one such player.
The younger man wasn't younger by much.
“Seventy,” the older man had said, regarding himself. Or maybe he said, “almost 70.”
The younger man wasn't sure, because the waitress had been talking at the same time, asking them what they wanted. The older man looked up and said, “Souvlaki and the Greek salad.”
The waitress wrote down the order. She could not have known the older man had been a terrific college basketball player, because he had been a terrific college basketball player about 25 years before she was born. She could not have known that in his 40s, the older man was still beating excellent high school players at H-O-R-S-E. The young men and women walking past the window on Thayer Street couldn't have known that, either.
“I've been coming here for 25 years, and I always have the same thing,” the older man was saying.
“OK,” the younger man said. “The same for me: the souvlaki but without the salad.”
Before the waitress had arrived the older man had been talking about a pick-up basketball game that had been going on several times a week for even longer than he had been ordering the souvlaki and the Greek salad. He’d only stopped playing a few years earlier.
“I could still shoot,” he had been saying.
It was a story the younger man had heard so often that he knew he wouldn't have to ask the older man why he had stopped playing, because the older man was going to tell him.
“One day I was being guarded by this skinny kid. He was running all over the place like crazy. He had all this energy to spare, firing all around on these skinny legs. Finally I said to him, 'How old are you?' and he said, 'I’m 14.'"
“Fourteen,” the younger man said.
The older man nodded. “That’s when I stopped.”
By then they'd both finished lunch. The older man hadn't touched his Greek salad.
"I don't like salad," he said. "I never eat it."
"But you always order it?"
"It comes with the souvlaki," the older man said. "And it's good for me."
"Maybe if you'd eaten it sometimes, you'd have been able to get around that 14-year-old," the younger man said.
"No," the older man said. "Even with the salad, I wouldn't have been able to do that."