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An Old Basketball Player And An Old Gym03:01
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It’s easy for sports writers to get excited about the newest great player who comes along. Sometimes Bill likes to check in with the ones who came along a while ago. (Keith Srakocic/AP)
It’s easy for sports writers to get excited about the newest great player who comes along. Sometimes Bill likes to check in with the ones who came along a while ago. (Keith Srakocic/AP)
This article is more than 3 years old.

The old basketball player maybe looks all of his 70 years. I guess it depends on how hard you look.

He’d been a good college player who’d thought the same thing a lot of good college players think, which is that they will be professional players. Then they aren’t, and he wasn’t, and he had to figure out what else he could be if he wasn’t going to be a guy who got old sitting around talking about what a good basketball player he’d been.

When he’d figured out that he wasn’t going to be a professional basketball player, he quit playing. Maybe he was angry. Maybe he was tired.

So he read a lot and, by doing so, taught himself to write, which, at 70, he is still doing, perhaps partly because it gives him an excuse to go to a lot of basketball games and talk basketball with a lot of other basketball players, old and young, and get paid for it.

He writes for a newspaper in the same town where he discovered that he wasn’t going to be a professional basketball player. Sometimes he writes about high school players who haven’t discovered that they aren’t going to be college players. Some of them call him the newspaper guy.

When he’d figured out that he wasn’t going to be a professional basketball player, he quit playing. Maybe he was angry. Maybe he was tired.

Then after a few years he started playing again, games at night in some of the same high school gyms where he’d made headlines in the paper a lot of years before he’d started writing for it — the gyms with the championship banners and the blue pads on the walls that are too close to the basket. He played long enough to outlast guys who quit when they got married, or quit when they had kids or quit when they reached 50.

“It was fun then,” he said. “Just fun. No pressure. No worries about who you might have to impress.”

The old basketball player has been a newspaper guy for long enough now so that he’s also outlasted a lot of editors. Sometimes one of the editors he hasn’t outlasted will say, “You wrote a story like that a couple years ago.”

The old basketball player will say, “How many stories you think there are?”

But he’s shortchanging himself when he says it, and he knows that. He’s finds ways to write about the new basketball players who haven’t any idea that they’ll be old basketball players one day, and he’s never given retirement a thought.

“I have friends who’ve retired,” he told me the other day. “They hate it. When I see them, they complain about having to go do this or that, fix something, go to the mall again, whatever it is. They’re cranky.”

We were in a high school gym when he said that, and he was smiling, and his smile was a little crooked. Beside the court there was a beat-up scorer’s table and some folding chairs.

“I played here a couple of times,” said the old basketball player. “I remember thinking the place was old then. Now it’s older.”

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