There’s a famous Gatorade commercial featuring Michael Jordan depicting his older self playing against…well himself only younger. It was and still is a brilliant ad, one that spoke to a lot of people for various reasons.
One of the main takeaways from the ad was the fact that old Jordan didn’t attempt to play like young Jordan. It wise wisdom vs hunger, patience vs pure athleticism. Both were able to attack each other in different ways and both knew the others weaknesses. But at the end young Jordan tries something that’s uncharacteristic of him and older Jordan gets the better of him. That leads to the awesome exchange where young Jordan says “Could’ve dunked it”. This prompts old Jordan to scoff at him and reply “Should’ve dunked it.”
Running Into Me.
As I continue to get older, I constantly find that I’m running into younger versions of myself. Skilled or not, they’re always full of energy and bursting with speed. They’re also able to mess up and still push on due to pure athleticism. At times they can be reckless and play emotionally. Other times they get in the zone and make everything under the sun. That, in a sense, was me when I was younger. It’s interesting to see it from the outside looking in.
And I absolutely hate it.
The Moment You Realize You Don’t Have It Anymore (Kind Of).
Sure, I could attack the basket at a furious pace. Of course I can still run with the best of them. It wouldn’t be a problem to go all out…until the next morning. While I may not be old enough for age to be a limiting factor in the moment, I am for it to be a destructive one after. For example, weeks back I had a night where I was on fire. Everything was hitting for me so mentally I thought I could do anything. I chose to go all out and take all kinds of shots. I’d drive hard to the basket. I played extremely tough defense. It was beautiful and I felt like a mix of the Flash, Spider-man and Loki all in one (a random assortment, I know).
While that was all good, it ended almost immediately after I was done playing. Once the adrenaline dropped I went from feeling like a superhero to feeling like I just got beat up by one. My legs ached, turning was a pain and walking was rough. I’d go on to feel that way for another full day after that. That was the moment when I truly realized that I would never recover the way I used to.
Resisting the Temptation to Match My Younger Self.
The problem with knowing that you can still go hard, is resisting the urge to do so. That urge comes quick too, especially when you’re playing against someone younger who has the same skillset you did. In some ways you feel like you can do it better. It’s as if they’re trying to learn your style but don’t know the true secrets of it. And honestly, I used to get sucked into it, very easily at that.
Now I’m smarter. Instead of trying to match them, I acknowledge them. I study them. And then I tell my teammates all about them. As I player who really enjoys defense, I thrive on this. Think about it, if you know a certain playstyle than, in theory, you know how to stop it too. It’s like a scouting report where you’ve already been briefed on half of it already. Kobe Bryant, while talking about guarding LeBron, once said to guard LeBron James, you have to understand his physiological and tactical tendencies. The same applies in pick-up and who knows your style better than you?
If you’re older and have experienced this, I recommend doing this as a defensive strategy.
Utilizing it to my Advantage.
This past weekend it wasn’t long until I recognized that I was playing against a younger me. The full speed plays, the jumping high to create a shot or grab a rebound, the spin moves, it was all too familiar. Had I been the one guarding him perhaps our team would have had an easier time. But he was being guarded by someone else who was struggling to gauge his speed. He was headstrong, with the ball in his hands on every play. So on quite a few occasions I found myself predicting what he was going to do. After all, it’s what I would have done in those situations.
On one particular play I knew he was about to try a spin move. So I yelled it out, right before he did it, to my teammate. Processing that thought quickly, my teammate backed off a bit. As the spin happened my teammate was able to play more effective defense causing a turnover by pressuring him. The next play, a quick hesitation into a left hand drive. The following play after that, a jump stop into a pump fake. It was clear as day. I understood his tendencies and thus would voice them.
There were moments when he tried to use a screen to switch, but that meant he got me as a defender. And since I was the one calling out his moves it was that much easier for me to guard him. But I’m not going to act like it was domination on defense. At times his speed and hops even caught me off guard. However, we were able to do enough to limit him to scoring on just a few possessions.
Inevitably he became frustrated and began passing more in an effort take the pressure off. But the damage was already done. My team was able to clamp down and eventually win.
Appreciating Both the Past and the Present.
Sometimes it can be hard to fully appreciate wisdom. We live in a society obsessed with youth and vitality. A society that discards people, especially athletes, the day they pass a certain age.
For short players, chances are when you were younger you had more speed, more hops. Perhaps your dribbling was on point, your senses keen. It’s tough to lose that as we move on in life. It’s tougher to have a skill or ability, that came with ease in the past, be hard to replicate now. But not all is lost. There is a completely different skill set that can be drawn upon to keep you in the game. We ultimately gain increased wisdom from playing longer. It is not uncanny to find the ability to be patient and to have a higher basketball IQ. Remember, it can be very beneficial to take a step back and look at changing your style to suit how you are now.
It may not get you the win every time, but it will definitely help you keep playing.