When it came to sports, Valentine Brkich had never been the worst player on the team. Until now.
When it comes to sports, I’ve never been the worst player on the team. I’ve never been the best, either. I’ve always been what I like to call moderately above average. But I’ve never been the worst.
Every Tuesday, a bunch of us gather at the local elementary school gym for some spirited pick-up basketball. Fifteen or so men ranging in age from thirty-something to fifty-something (and even one sixty-something) running up and down the court, getting some much needed competition and exercise as we try to fend off Father Time.
Some of us are still pretty darn good. Others (me), not so much.
I don’t know what happened. I used to be pretty mediocre. In grade school I was the second-best guard on the second team. I wasn’t good enough to make the team in high school, but I was a four-year starter with a street-ball team made up of some of my other friends who weren’t good enough to make the varsity team either. I really hit my stride in college, when I was one of the better players on my freshman hall intramural team.
Now I’m the worst player in a rec league made up of middle-aged men with receding hair lines, arthritis, and – at least one of them – grandchildren. It’s pathetic.
Come to think of it, I’ve never had much luck in this particular gym. Starting in the seventh grade, every Saturday night zit-ravaged kids from all over would gather here for Canteen, a weekly “dance” where only the girls would actually dance. The boys would just sit watching from the bleachers, burning with hormonal urges, yet lacking any dancing ability or the courage to speak to a member of the opposite sex. As Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam’s “Head to Toe” reverberated off of the cement block walls, I’d watch longingly from the stands, a poor, rhythm-challenged white boy dressed in homemade Skidz.
Years before that, I spent many a night in this very gym watching my father play and excel in his own version of the Middle-Aged Men’s Basketball Association (MAMBA). Unfortunately, this Valentine Brkich fell far from the basketball tree, so to speak.
It’s kind of nice, really. Since I’m the worst player on the court, there’s no pressure, no expectations. And if by some miracle I make a bucket, everyone’s congratulatory. Even the other team.
Just in case you think I’m exaggerating about my ineptitude, this past week I missed six wide open lay-ups, tossed up at least three airballs, and passed the ball to the other team. Twice. It got to the point that whenever I’d have the ball the other team would actually call out for me to shoot, knowing there was no chance in hell it was going in.
But for once I got the last laugh.
After catching a pass on the baseline and finding myself unguarded beyond the three point line, I put up an arching prayer that, to everyone’s surprise, sailed clean through the metal ring, touching nothing but net. The game winner.
Gathering my coat and shoes and what was left of my pride, I decided to call it a night and leave on a high note.
That is, until next week when I’m the worst player in the world again.