"You're in the paint too long."
"No, I'm not. Don't think so."
"Yeah, you are. Fake him once, twice maybe, but if you don't lift him, throw it up or kick it out—but do something."
I'm sweating, sitting against the wire fence surrounding a minuscule patch of green by an apartment building entrance. I've already drained my Coke; my son Matt is still nursing his. We have just played two hours of hard basketball under a hot midday sun, on the courts we call Gansevoort Street, in New York City. There are four baskets for half-court and there's one typically undersized full court whose baskets have nets. Most of the time, we play half-court.
Matt thinks about his inside game, which is very good indeed. "I don't know, Dad. I don't think I'm in there that long. Besides, I could take the guy. That first game? Did you see the way I ran him baseline for the reverse?"
I remember. He smiles and slaps the ball into a fast riff of percussive dribbles.
This will be a summer of passages for Matt and me, not as father and son per se but as athletes who are father and son. I am 35, he is 15; I'm 6'3", 190 to his 5'10", 153. I'm going, he's coming.
We had a deal from the start. I would never hold back and let him beat me at anything. That way, when he did win, it would be for real. In chess, eight ball and straight pool, Ping-Pong and darts, he has had his wins. He's very close in tennis, less so in racquetball.
But hoops is the checkpoint that matters the most. It was my game. Once, for a white guy, I could sky. I can still jam it, on a good day. I know the rules and the nuances and urgent geometry of the game and so does Matt. We've seen Bird's Celtics 60 times in the past six years, and we've seen the Bulls in Chicago and the Knicks in New York and the Lakers in the Forum. We've seen the NIT and the Boston Shoot-out, and we've also seen the serious street players at West Fourth Street in Greenwich Village.
The players on West Fourth are too good. Even in my best days I would have been too slow and court-bound for the woofing high-fliers who gallivant above those full-court rims. So, for this first summer of ours together in New York, Gansevoort Street will be the setting for our crossing paths. There are lithe young city players who have a game. But there are also a lot of people like me, guys who had a game and still attempt to express it. If Matt's to succeed as a player, he'll have to shine at Gansevoort Street. If he's to beat me, it will be here.