Full court was out of the question. They'd agreed on that immediately, all 15 of them appreciating the difference between daydream and delusion. It would be half-court, four-on-four. Winners out. Five baskets wins. Just for fun, not for blood. Don't kill yourself; there are women and children to consider.
"Shoot for sides," Norman called out. "First eight play."
He went to the foul line and banged one off the front rim so hard it could have broken a windshield.
"Same soft touch," Howie noted.
The next seven to shoot didn't come any closer.
"I don't want to rush anyone," Suds said, "But there's only five hours left until the reunion. We keep this up, and by the time we get sides, it'll be too late to play."
"C'mon, somebody make one."
"This is pathetic."
"What do you expect? You think I ended up being a tax accountant because I had a religious conflict with the NBA?"
"We weren't this bad 20 years ago."
Whatever happened to the Class of '65?
In this shiny, gilt-edged corner of Long Island, like their fathers before them, they were doctors, lawyers and businessmen. They'd been given advantages and not squandered them. And now, 20 years after their high school graduation, they'd eagerly come back from their new homes, from California, from Maryland, from Michigan, from Connecticut, from Florida, so very happy to see each other again. As strong as the summer sun was that shone overhead, its warmth was but a trifle compared to what passed among them as they stood around a blacktopped court smiling at the good fortune that had brought them back together. Boys from the neighborhood, grown into men, scattered like seed, then, for a brief flicker, a solitary note in a symphony, reunited. A moment like this is a rose petal to be pressed sweetly between the pages of a book.
"I can't touch the rim anymore."
"Rim? I can't touch the net anymore."
"You know, my 11-year-old gets up higher than I do."
"Hey, Mike, butcher block tables get up higher than you do."
The first thought was to get up a softball game; there'd been one of those at the 10-year reunion. But nobody could guarantee enough players, so the game was switched to basketball, a riskier proposition 20 years out of high school, long after that thin layer of speed and quickness that coated those younger reflexes started to flake and peel. And the people gathered were not the kinds you see in the beer commercials, going to their reunions and soaring above the rim for the stunning, still-in-his-street-shoes jam that signals the chorus of bottle opening to begin. Of the 15 gathered, but two played varsity basketball -- Parks, who'd started, and Howie. The others had no reputations worth upholding. They'd come hoping that after 20 years, the leaders of the pack had slowed down enough to be caught.
"We can't allow Parksie to play."
"Because he can still dribble with both hands."
"You see Andy? Remember how skinny he was in high school? He looks like he started lifting weights the day after graduation. He's so huge I'll have to pay a toll to get around him."
"What about Harvey? He was the strongest guy in the class to begin with. So of course he goes into heavy construction and gets even stronger. How would you suggest I keep him off the boards, with a cross and a clove of garlic?"
"Jack, you'll have to go to the boards with them, you're 6-1."
"So are you."
"Yeah. But I've always been a guard. Plus, I bleed easily."
"I'm a doctor. I'll stitch you up."
"You're a gynecologist. How often do you work on a broken nose?"
There were six courts open. Naturally, they chose the one closest to the water fountain and the public benches. And after they finally split into teams, for almost three hours they played hard, if not particularly well.
"I haven't shot this badly since high school."
"Yeah, I remember."
"It's hard to believe I'm this bad."
"No it's not." "I've got to face it. I'm the same age as Kareem, but I'm never going to be as good."
"Look at the bright side. He can't borrow your sweaters."
The 20 years had etched its rings of age around them in similar ways. Most were thicker around the middle, many thinner on the top. They were all at least one step slower, some two and three. Parksie was still the best, but even he had a shot partially blocked. Harvey was still the strongest, but even he could be blocked out with the proper technique. The shooters -- Howie, Norman, Shines, Franklin and Suds -- had the right form if not the right range. But the nicest touch of all belonged to Flates, an average player in high school, but one who'd liked the game, who'd kept playing, and who'd ended up with a polished set of moves and the confidence to display them.
It's the ending you're always looking for: Twenty years ago he'd have been happy to be on the same court with these guys. Now they're all happy being out there with him.