Gravel pops under my tires as I slowly ease the car past the basketball court. My eyes, and Erik, Troy, and Edwin's are all glued on the pack of young high school boys who are playing a game under the single hoop. More boys sit at a picnic table at the edge of the court.
Privately, we each debate if we should join them. Or challenge them. My thoughts sway between staying or leaving because for some reason I am strangely intimidated by the boys.
In our stoic Finnish way, we vocalize a decision to play. I stop the car and turn off the motor. Erik and Troy spring out and approach the boys. I reach behind the seat for my indoor soccer shoes in exchange for my sandals.
I join the trio and the current game wraps up. We pass Erik's worn ball around and I wait to see what we'll do.
From under a mop of shaggy, blond hair, one of the young men looks at us. 'Game to 11. Four on four.'
Out of pity, we old men get the ball first. Troy is the pup at 26. I'm 37. Erik 38. And Edwin's 70.
Surprisingly, I seem tall against the other team so I start at the baseline. Erik and I used to have a telepathic basketball connection and I wonder idly if we still do.
I move up and set a pick. Troy whizzes by, floating, and dipsy-dos a layup.
King's court and we keep the ball.
Troy snaps a pass to Erik. I move again from the low post. The ball bounces into my hands and I flip the ball to Troy who cuts strong to the hoop.
Erik's on top. Gives a pass to Troy and receives the ball as he goes to the hoop. Short jumper. Score.
Troy shoots, miss. I spring for the rebound and score on the putback!
'What's the score?' I ask, grinning a little.
'Five nothing.' Soon the huddle of boys sitting on the table takes keen interest in the game; calling out.
'Oh man! You got schooled! Oh, that hurts! Are you in the NBA? Can you dunk?'
The game finds its momentum and some of the young men hit a couple of outside shots. Swish. We counter with five or six fundamental plays. Pick and rolls. Give and gos. Outside shots. Dipsy-do layups.
The boys try to get our attention by cursing.
Erik and Troy say simply, 'No cussing boys. No cussing.'
King's court so they stop.
But they continue, 'I thought that we were good!'
Game one ends 11-3. Game two 11-5.
We split teams for our final game by a shoot-around for teams. This turned into comedy as everyone went cold and clang after clang off the rim.
Finally, I ended up with three boys playing Troy and Erik and two other boys.
Troy and Erik's team wins, but not before I school Erik a few times with some clever defense. The boys, I learn, are talented, but quite lazy. So more importantly than our talent, we out hustle and outwork the youngsters.
Between games, the onlookers shuffle off the picnic table to shoot. The players call out, 'Hey dork, I thought that you said that you weren't going to play. You stink!' The shooter isn't athletic is show-boating while shooting. Clang! The rim vibrates after he shoots.
And in a flash of insight, I see what is happening. We earned the respect of these young men by playing hard, setting standards, and winning with dignity. They crave interaction with positive male role models. So the show boating boy is asking for his share.
The games end and the four of us walk to my car. The boys are enthralled by Troy's ability so they ask, 'How old are you?'
He laughs, '26.'
I put my two cents in and say, '37! And he's 70!!!'
Everyone laughs and we drive back to the campsite. The four of us are laughing and happy for the simple thrill of playing a fundamentally sound game and the delight of winning so unexpectedly.
'We walk up to them, and they're like to themselves, 'Yeah, lets just play them and get it over with. Whatever.''
'Did you hear what they were saying?'
'Are you guys in the NBA?'
Not by far.
But we all briefly restored our glory years and definitively answered the basketball question.