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Observations on Old Men Playing Basketball

Some people are very late bloomers!

Old men playing basketball is not a pretty sight unless you can see past the bulges, baldness and bad knees. I know. I’m one of them. The following are 10 observations about life and health made by a basketball wannabee and a very late bloomer!

Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at a YMCA in San Diego I join 20 – 40 guys between the ages of 50 and 80+ for some hoops.  We play half-court, three-on-three basketball using the rules established by the Senior Games*. Many of us have been to the Senior Games to compete and some of them have won medals.

After playing senior basketball in three states (Florida, Colorado and California) and in seven different cities for the last 13 years I have made some observations about and learned some lessons from my bold basketball buddies that are worthy of note:

Observation #1: None are obese. Some are as slim and trim as they were in college and a few have a potbelly but none of them are fat. It’s hard enough to play basketball in your senior years even if you are svelte but I reckon it’s nearly impossible if you’re a butterball.

Observation #2: They don’t smoke and probably never have. I don’t know this one for a fact, but I feel pretty safe in declaring it here. When I first started participating in team sports in the 7th grade our coach told us smoking will slow us down and would not be good for our health. I believed him and have never had the habit.

Observation #3: They have a healthy self-esteem. Most of the guys out there are able to laugh at themselves, which is important because we make several athletic gaffes in each game we play. These guys know who they are so they no longer have to prove anything to anybody and can look fondly upon their limited skills and still have a good time. Most have finally learned that life is too short to be a swaggering, egotistical hotdogger.

Observation #4: Age is an equalizer. Some of the guys I play with were big-time college players – places like USC, UCLA, University of Iowa, University of Nebraska, University of Michigan and other division one and division two schools. I was on a team once that went to the Senior Games and we had a guy on our team who was once a starter with the Chicago Bulls. To be honest, he didn’t provide much more for our team than any of the rest of us, despite his superior athletic résumé.

Let me say it again, age is an equalizer.

I often play with a guy who over 50 years ago was a center for USC – he’s 73-years-old. Today I can hold my own with him - not because I was better than he was 50 years ago – I was not, but because age has leveled the playing field for me. Now I can be on the same court with such a formerly great player and have the time of my life.

Once after finishing a game with this guy we were sitting on the bench trying to catch our breath. He looked over at me and said, “So, who did you play for?” It was as if he expected me to say, “Kansas State” or “Georgetown.” I found out later he was a scout for the Make a Wish Foundation.

Observation #5: They know when to take a rest. Several times others and I have stopped the game because we couldn’t go any farther. Either our legs or lungs or something else had been pressed to the limit and we need a rest. We know when to sit down and let someone else in the game after all there are no trophies for dead guys.

Observation #6: They don’t cheat. In three-on-three pick-up basketball we don’t have refs unless it’s an organized tournament. So we call our own fouls and admit it if we touched the ball last when it went out of bounds. This kind of honesty and integrity makes playing senior basketball a real joy.

Observation #7: They still want to win. Even though senior basketballers sag in the middle and most of us are no longer able to jump, we are still competitive. Here in California the teams are made up randomly from whomever shows up on the court and we award one point per basket – first team to seven wins.

No matter whom you’re teamed up with – guys better or worse than you – you still play to win – but not just to win - we’re out there for the exercise and the camaraderie. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that most of us, when we go home we still want to report to our beloved cheerleader, “We won!”

Observation #8: They play with pain – but they play. Many of the guys on the court hurt in dozens of places: knees, hips, backs, shoulders, etc., but they still play. And they do it without whining and complaining about growing old. We are old. We know it so why complain about it.

Observation #9: They don’t complain about growing old but they do brag about still being in the game. Aging results in a persistent diminishing of our skill levels. We can no longer run fast or jump high - we know that. Recently three of us were sitting on the sidelines watching a couple of teams play. After a few minutes of observing one of our buddies on the court we could not come to an agreement as to whether he was going forward, backward or side ways. We did agree however, that it didn’t really matter – he was still in the game.

Observation #10: Some reach their athletic peak later in life. There are several really tough competitors out there who are over 80-years-old and some of them are darn good players. Every time I have to guard one little 81-year-old guy he tells me, “Be careful, don’t hurt me. I have some cracked ribs and I’m sore.” Then he gets the ball, puts a couple of moves on me and shoots a 20-foot swisher making me look like a slug player.

Now I must admit that this observation is selfish – as it is the real reason I play basketball every week – I HOPE I can reach my athletic peak at 80 because so far I’ve been an athletic also-ran wannabe benchwarmer. I’m hoping that if I stick with it long enough that when I’m 80-years-old at the Senior Games championship round in front of thousands of screaming fans, someone is gong to say, “Do you see that Ron Ross out there? He is the best player on the court.”

Some people are VERY late bloomers.

*They used to be called Senior Olympics until forced by higher powers to cease and desist using the word “Olympics”.

More Stories By Ron Ross

Dr. Ron Ross is a publisher, author, speaker, radio personality residing in Loveland, Colorado. He is the author of two published books and several e-books. He is the host of Tidbits Radio on 1310KFKA-AM and on He writes a weekly motivational and inspirational column that is published in a variety of newspapers.