Basketball Taught Me How to Live
On the impermanence of youth, health, and my crappy ankle
It happened again one night when my fiancée and I were walking home from work. One second we were side by side, mid-conversation about our days, and suddenly she was alone in the darkness. I dropped abruptly, as though I’d been hit by a sniper. Andrea took a few steps before noticing I was on the ground behind her. I was holding my right ankle and biting back curses into muffled groans.
It wasn’t my first sprained ankle. The pain was familiar, the procedure instinctive. I untied my shoelaces, then retied them extra tightly to put pressure on the impending swelling. I pushed myself upright and took a few cautious steps, finding the pavement with my heel before rolling the rest of my foot flat to the ground. I limped and hobbled the rest of the walk home. We looked like an elderly couple whose wish to return to their youth had been granted, but were still stuck in the fragile habits of old age.
There was no reason for the accident, and there were no mitigating circumstances. The pavement was smooth—no cracks or uneven surfaces, no loose rocks or tree roots breaking up the concrete. Nor was darkness an issue. Between streetlights, headlights from passing cars, and the insomniac fluorescence beaming out of storefronts, I could see just fine. I have only the boring excuse of physical frailty. I’m 30 years old.
There’s a history behind my ankle’s chalky integrity. Most of my serious ankle injuries have happened somewhere on the basketball court. The first time was during a practice in ninth grade: I was sprinting on a fast break one second and writhing on the ground the next. My guess is I stepped on someone’s foot while I was running, but I can’t say for sure.
Me as a basketball player always had an expiration date, but that’s what made the game beautiful.
“The ground just came up and bit you, eh?” my coach asked, as he taped up my ankles in what would become a prerequisite for every game and practice for the rest of my life. He chuckled at the thought. I was haunted by it.
In twelfth grade, while playing a pickup game with friends—so of course my ankles weren’t…