Keeping the magic alive
I wear No. 32 with reverence. It grounds me in our rec league basketball games, reminds me of the role I aim to play in our overage adolescent pursuit that only remotely resembles what you see on TV these days of March Madness.
There are no bands blaring, no Jimmy V. broadcasting, no fans shrieking. My teen-age kids aren’t even polite about declining invitations to come watch Dad play. They reply with snorts. Are you kidding? My wife at least smiles through her “no way.” Or is that a smirk?
Nope, it’s just us, the refs, the scorekeeper and the odd spouse or daughter in the mood for our brand of comedy or maybe looking for material they can use later.
I can tell you we are no less caught up in our games than Kentucky or Air Force or the rest of the field chasing that NCAA championship. Only grayer, especially my team of 40 somethings and honorary 40 somethings. OK, we also don’t jump so high, cut so quickly or fill up the basket quite as surely as maybe some of us once did way back when. And “fast” break, well, that’s a relative term.
But when the game’s on, you couldn’t tell any of us this. The years peel away, we’re in the moment, sweating, huffing and puffing, hollering at the refs, playing to win, kids again. For these 40 minutes, the game is all that matters.
The world shrinks to the baselines. Perhaps this is as close as some of us get to meditation, living completely in the moment. Zen. Oh yeah.
This is where my jersey number comes in. Magic Johnson wore No. 32. There’s no comparison of talent between the Hall of Famer and the rec league scrub, of course. Our styles are far different, too, though we both have that pass-first mentality, which accounts for part of my admiration for his game. But it’s really more core than that.
Magic could play any position on the court well. And he seemed to look for what he needed to do to best help his team. Feed the other fellas with passes? Sure. Score? OK. Play defense, rebound, set picks – hey, whatever it took, he could do any of it.
He’s the model for my approach to journalism in working life, too. I accept no pigeon holes – “writer,” “page designer,” “copy editor,” “management” and so on among these various positions. I work hard at being great at any spot. No limits. In a way, this is as significant as a basketball player being able to be effective at center as well as point guard. Only these challenges have nothing to do with physical size and everything to do with the mental borders we set for ourselves.
So No. 32 holds meaning for me outside basketball. And in that hardwood zen, it’s my touchstone for finding the game that best helps my team. Generally, that’s trying to bring energy, playing hard defense, scooping up loose balls, hustling, finding the open guy (or gal). Oftentimes, internally, it’s finding that sweet balance of timing, patience, and yes, working within the limits of my abilities that I try so hard not to acknowledge.
Now, the fellas I play with and the refs will laugh at the thought of the remotest connection between Rogers and “zen” in a basketball game. I’ve always tended to play with a certain ferocity that belies any hint of inner contemplation. I holler, I trash talk, I dive, bump, swat, tangle. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve even mixed it up a time or two way closer to fighting than playing.
But inside, somewhere, there’s an observer who takes all this surface stuff in, generally with a chuckle. Remember 32, he whispers. I try hard to listen, and this is where the game fascinates me – and I think teaches me about me.
Meantime, as I grapple for understanding with the inner me while going toe to toe with opponents, all that running around at least keeps the body younger.
Let the kids snort. They have no idea. But I’ll bet Magic understands.
Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or firstname.lastname@example.org