My little brother is better than me at basketball. Far, far better. Not that I’m some athletic scrub – I can hold my own against most sub-division one competition. But to put it succinctly: I can dunk. He can windmill.
This is something of a gut-wrenching admission, as much a symbol of life’s change as my impending graduation or the (hopefully) final exorcism of acne from my face. To age is to watch our naive dreams die, and there can be no better representation of reality than seeing was once your scrawny young punching-bag overtake you in both muscle mass and skill.
Envy plays no part in this realization. He is a rec-center Michael Jordan, and I have no problem being Scottie Pippen. I have long wallowed in the basketball shadow of my older brother, a veritable scoring machine and legendary figure among the Conifer High School basketball community, and third place in such a hallowed pecking order is not so far from second. Put the three Womeldorphs on the same team and witness pick-up domination.
The real issue is the rapidly diminishing importance of sports in my life. What was once central to my existence has now become ancillary, a priority transformed into an afterthought. Prior to the last couple years, the nexus of my previous two decades of existence had been sports in one shape or another. My first experience with organized sports was learning to play soccer on a gravel field as a 5-year-old, and after that the seasons were marked not by weather but by game.
It is hard to overstate the significance of athletics in my development. Nearly every friendship I’ve ever had was made on some sort of playing field. When I moved across the pond to England in seventh grade, I was simply a strange little American until I gained some respect on the soccer field. When I moved back to Colorado in 9th grade, new-kid fears were mitigated only after late-summer soccer tryouts and basketball camp.
Even most of my college friendships have begun this way. When I transferred here from CU with my little brother, the only people I knew were lost friendships from high school that I little interest in rekindling. I had no job and several 100-level classes, and so I spent basically all my free time that first semester on the basketball court or in the weight room. And that is where I met all of my current roommates and my main social group.
Things have changed lately, however. I no longer have any desire to pointlessly and repetitively push around heavy metal objects for no practical reason besides vanity, and regrettably I don’t have the time to spend six afternoons a week dominating freshmen and other insignificant beings with my lay-ups and superior defense. I’m lucky to get two sessions in a week these days, an unfortunate situation for both my mental health as well as my physique.
Oh well. Time tends to erode all things, namely competitive fire and the human body. Sports have transformed from the building blocks of my identity to the most fun way to keep from getting fat. A loss of any sort used to set me off in a storm of gorilla-rage. Now I just sort of pout for ten minutes and get on with life.
My pathetic, weak ankles ache after an hour and a half, and the only way I can keep them from folding under me like a piece of ligamental origami is to wrap them to the point of near-immobilization. My shoulders occasionally pop in and out of place in flashes of pain and I repeatedly jam the ring finger on my left hand.
Granted, I am only 23 and still in decent shape, but I‘m certainly not 16 anymore and every day gets me a little closer to 30. Before long I’m going to be one of those pudgy old guys at the local rec center, launching deep threes and trying to regain the glory days with every steal and assist. Ideally, both my brothers will be there as well, and although they will both probably still be better than me, I’ll never admit it again after I finish this column.
Basketball is just one game, after all. I rule the ping-pong table and the chess board in my family, and I shall never relinquish my throne.
Zane Womeldorph perpetually needs more coffee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.