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So why keep playing? Dad doesn't talk about it, but I have an idea. Jack Kirk, who ran marathons well into his 90s, once said, "You don't stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running," and surely this is part of the reason. There's the joy of competition, too, but there's something else. When I asked my mom what playing basketball means to Phil, she didn't hesitate: "With his boys? How about everything."
Two months ago Dad and I were on the same team at the Y. As usual, the defense sagged off the old guy, daring Phil to shoot and, as usual, he hesitated. But he hit the first shot, and then a three. Emboldened, Dad went in the post and unfurled a little jump hook. Money! Then an up-and-under, spinning away from the defense like a creaky ballerina and bringing a whoop from the sideline. After winning two games, we faced a stacked team. Soon, the score was tied at 19, next basket wins.
By my count Dad had hit seven of his eight attempts. Yet the defense again left him open in the corner. As he caught the ball, he ignored his shoulder and the two men racing at him and his balky knees, and pushed his shot up and out, just like his dad taught him, just like he taught us.
And then, the moment we all play for, no matter our age. As the ball dropped through the net clean, I roared in triumph and the opposing players argued about who left the old guy open. And Phil—well, as usual, he didn't say anything.
But he did smile.
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