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Basketball and Breakfast

Shooting hoops on a Saturday morning isn't quite what it used to be for these older athletes, but it's still fun

By Dennis Danziger

I woke and lifted my head off the pillow, but the rest of my body refused to budge. My lower back ached, and I felt a strain in my hamstrings, a stiffness in my shoulders. The last time I'd felt this sore was almost 20 years earlier, after jogging the AIDS Marathon in Honolulu.

A group of people playing basketball outside. Next Avenue
The author shooting the ball, surrounded by Jesse Danziger, Mike Laskey, Dean Purvis, Kenny Barela, and Tim Carpenter (in the black cap)  |  Credit: Molly Barela

This time — 20 years older — I'd simply played 3 on 3, half-court basketball on the outdoor court at Westwood Park in Los Angeles for the first time in over two years.

Dean, new to our basketball-and-breakfast group, 22 years younger than me and two inches taller at 6'4, asked, "Dare I ask if we play a little three on three?"

I remembered that I hadn't said a word about the unwritten rule of these morning shoot-arounds — that we never, ever played a game. But I quickly heard the younger guys say, "Sure," and buoyed by the sheer joy of playing with a group now that COVID was on the wane, I echoed them.

All six of us will forever be — in our own minds — former star athletes.

Launching Our Shots

We launched shots at the rim. When most of them missed, all six of us were ready with the usual excuses: too windy; the sun was blinding; the Federal Building was distracting; the hoop, tilted upward, threw off our otherwise precision shots.

All six of us will forever be — in our own minds — former star athletes. In addition to Dean, a Grant High School alum, there was Tim Carpenter, who played college basketball at UC-Santa Barbara; Mike, who played high school baseball in Ohio; Jesse, who was a mean roller hockey player at Palisades High School and Kenny, who played point guard for his middle school in New Mexico.

And me? I won my first basketball trophy when I was eight by making the Houston Jewish Community Center Biddy Basketball All-Star team.   

But a lot of years had passed for all of us, and playing a game was a mistake, but I followed that mistake by a bigger one. Instead of divvying up the teams by skill level, I decided that the three guys wearing baseball caps (Tim, Jesse and me) would play the non-capsters.

Had I been thinking balance, I might have chosen teams by height or who played better defense against who. I did consider the hip replacements — Mike and Tim — and our ages — ranging from my son Jesse's 37 to my 71. But our team was collectively 167, and our opposition just 146.

"What do we play to?" Dean asked.

"How about three?" Tim said.

I silently agreed, but out loud I said, "Nine, and three pointers count for three points instead of two, and each team gets one Ibuprofen timeout."


I brought the ball in. Jesse set a screen for me, Tim fed me a bounce pass and I missed an uncontested 15-foot bank shot. Luckily, Tim tipped it in. We led 1-0. 

That was followed by both sides missing shot after shot until Dean hit a baseline jump shot, followed by a Kenny lay-up, 2-1.

The old me (10 years earlier) would have yelled, "Run it back," but no one said that.

Seven minutes into the game, and all of us except Kenny were sucking wind. If we hadn't been such macho ex-weekend warriors, we would have called it a tie and gone to breakfast, but we played on.

As Mike's 3-point attempt flew through the air, Tim yelled, "Please go in," and I realized that like me, Tim had been receiving AARP mailers for a while, and like me, he was praying for our opponents' shots to hit nothing but net.

Worth the Aches and Pains

Eventually they routed us — 9 to 2. The old me (10 years earlier) would have yelled, "Run it back," but no one said that. We all agreed our best option was to head to breakfast at a restaurant on Pico Boulevard called Food.

Once we were seated, and after we ordered our breakfast burritos, omelets and fruit salads, we talked about work, the war in Ukraine, sports, our families, our dogs, our travel plans and the NBA playoffs. And I realized this was nothing I'd experienced in my life as a baller; we talked about everything except the game.

And still, as we said our goodbyes that morning, we all agreed: We wanted to do the basketball and breakfast thing again, and soon.

As I downed Ibuprofen on that Sunday morning, I knew I'd never, despite the aches and pain, and my age, give up shooting hoops.

Dennis Danziger
Dennis Danziger is the co-founder of the non-profit POPS the Club. This essay is from his memoir-in-progress, Downwardly Mobile: How to Lead a Rich Life While Going Broke, A Teacher's Story.
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