Playing Basketball at the Y May Say Something About How DC Has Changed

The Washington Post Health&Science section has a nice piece by Bob Brody headlined “I’ve been playing basketball for 59 years. Let me tell you why.”

The opening grafs:

Nobody has ever mistaken me for any kind of an athlete—unless maybe you count chess. At 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, with an average physique, bald and wearing glasses, I more likely resemble a highly determined actuary. Plus, a potential dealbreaker here, I’m 67.

I’ve played basketball an average of about once a week for 59 years. I’ve kept playing through everything in my life—college, engagement, marriage, honeymoon, quitting cigarettes and hard liquor, the births of our son and daughter, financial problems, the deaths of my father and mother-in-law, a hernia operation, nine full-time jobs and layoffs at the ages of 46 and 56.

And the ending:

Once, some kids tried to convince me to play just one more game. “Sorry,” I said, “I have to get back to my nursing home before curfew.” One young man, obviously quite gullible, asked, “You live in a nursing home?” I had to explain I was just kidding.

Sixteen months ago, I discovered yet another incentive to keep playing: I became a grandfather. So call me Grandpa Hoops. Suddenly I have no choice but for the show to go on. My dear Lucia may someday need me to teach her how to hold her own out there.
I liked the story because I played basketball almost as long as Brody. Through high school and the first year of college, I played real basketball on good teams. After getting into journalism it was my way of burning off stress and staying fit.

For adults looking for a game, YMCAs often are good possibilities. When I got to DC in 1969, the Y was in an old building near the White House—the gym was on the small side but still a good court and the Y was inexpensive to join. So at noon two or three times a week I’d head to the Y for an hour of basketball and then grab a sandwich to take back to the magazine.

Most of the players were black—I often was the only white guy playing—and we played hard. You made the shot or you didn’t, no whining about he hit my arm.

Then in the late 1970s the old Y by the White House was closed and a new Y built off Connecticut Avenue. Very high class for a Y. Also expensive—the initiation fee was up about $200 and annual dues close to that.

And the basketball players now were almost all white. I played for a couple of years but it was no fun. It was like playing with a bunch of lawyers—some of them I’m sure were lawyers—and games were constantly interrupted by real or alleged foul calls. Play two minutes, listen to arguments about he hit my arm for one minute. I finally just ran on the track up above the gym and listened to the noise below.

P.S. At the old Y we often knew first names but beyond that we never knew who the players were—we never asked the classic Washington question: What do you do? About 20 years after I stopped playing I ran into one of the old Y players at a reception and we talked about how much fun we had at the old Y. He was Bill Pryor, an associate judge on the DC Court of Appeals.

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