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INTERLUDE: March 27, 2013


I've joined a gym. More specifically, I've joined the rec center, its front entrance no more than a half-mile from my back door. Don't be impressed. I drive that half-mile. It's too far to walk in this cold, windy weather, especially when I'm soaked with hard-earned sweat.

I've joined the rec center, but I haven't pedaled out all the lazy yet.

My motivation for exercising? I don’t want to collapse and die of something. And it might help my golf game.

I recently finished a series of physical therapy sessions for a creaky, arthritic back. One of the therapists, who I suspect of having spent time in the Israeli army, basically told me I needed to get off my flabby ass and get some real exercise.

So, for once, I've taken some helpful advice. I'm trying to develop good habits.

Last night, I had a window of opportunity while the tater tots crisped in the oven (healthy foods, right?) to run (drive) to the gym for a quick workout. Given that my left knee is made of high-grade plastic and titanium, running and jumping is not an option, which leaves me pedaling and walking.

As is my habit, I first took a look in the large gym adjacent to the staircase that leads to the exercise machines and running track. Basketball gym rats can't help but look, wondering if there’s a game even when they can no longer play in them.

Women were jazzercising in one half of the gym; on the other half, divided by a large dropdown curtain, a group of boys dribbled basketballs around cones near one basket. At the other end of the gym, a small boy of 9 or 10 shot mid-range jump shots two-handed. Nearly every shot he launched whistled through the nets.

I decided to get involved and play a role shooters always appreciate -- rebounder. Shooters get more shots when they have someone chasing down their misses. But this kid, who seemed small for his age, did not miss much.

I tossed crisp bounce passes to his left and right, depending on the direction I sensed he wanted to move. With no real pattern, he moved around the arc above the free-throw line, shooting and scoring.

Basketball is an intuitive game, a blending of intentions and effort. A team in synch is a beautiful thing to watch. A squad working in concert can shred and embarrass opponents who are nothing but disparate parts trying to play as individuals. I can still recall moments in various gyms where the harmonic forces between me and my teammates bloomed into the bright colors of cooperation.

Over that 10-minute rebounding session, I gave myself permission to take a half-dozen shots and missed them all. A few airmailed over the rim. I didn't care.

I can still shoot a basketball, but my role on this evening and in this space and time was to pass. I took pride in doing that job well.

As for the kid, I hope his future is as bright and as sharp as his jumper. I appreciated him letting me in his world for a few minutes. I almost felt like a basketball player again.

I finally told him, “I'm done,” and headed upstairs to go one-on-one with the exercise bike. The kid wordlessly kept shooting, the presence of a random tall bald guy no longer part of his consciousness. There were jumpers to drain and no time for old men.