On any given Sunday, as long as the weather permits, you can find a good game of four-on-four, half-court basketball on the Taft Recreation Center's outdoor courts, nestled among South Dakota Avenue, 18th Street and Perry Street NE.
Just like in the barbershop, nothing here is off-limits. You can hear it about your shoes, your wife, about the championship fights over the weekend, about your game or whatever the subject may touch upon. There's always somebody with an opinion on something.
Originally, two or three summers ago, the games were played at the Turkey Thicket courts on Michigan Avenue. When construction began on a new recreation center there, the games migrated to Taft.
By 6:45 a.m. on Sundays, I'm awakened by my alarm to begin my weekly ritual. Within 20 minutes, I'm laced up and out of my apartment to go pick up my sons, Arthur and Andrew and their friend, Patrick Petty. After a quick stop at a 7-Eleven store for water and early-morning doughnuts for the boys, we're at the courts by 8 am. A few of the regulars are already there, warming up.
Arthur and Patrick are 16, and Andrew is 14, and they are, by far, the youngest on a court dominated by men mostly in their forties and fifties.
There's Tom, and Chris, who makes a 35-minute one-way drive to play. "Big Mike" is here, along with "Temple Hills Mike," "Big Dave" and John, who's 59. "Pig," my man Petey, "OC," Landry, "Big Six" and Dave, everybody's favorite person to rib, soon arrive. Byrd catches a ride in every week with Keith, a policeman, and pretty soon the nucleus of players is here. Every week brings new faces to the court.
No high-flying dunks or crossovers here. Just good, fundamental basketball -- blocking out, rebounding, setting a pick for a teammate. For about three hours, they get their game on. Bumping and grinding, grunting and talking trash -- that's the game played here. The first team with 11 points wins.
A few Sundays ago, I was fortunate enough to be on a squad that won nine in a row. A good day indeed, because good shooting by your opponents can have you sitting on the sidelines waiting a long time for "Next."
In my mind, I can hear my personal play-by-play: "The game is tied 10 to 10. I move around the court to find one of my favorite 'sweet spots' near the foul line. A key rebound, a look for an open man, then a quick pass to him and back. I shoot my now familiar deadly set shot. Swish!"
That's the ballgame. But there's not too much time to celebrate, as the team that called "Next" is already warming up.
Arthur R. Grinage Sr. is a 50-year-old father and grandfather, a lifelong D.C. resident and a proud basketball player.