”He used to let me win.”
I’ll never forget the moment when I realised my dad was throwing games of tennis.
A couple of years ago I was reminiscing about some epic tennis matches we used to have on the courts just opposite my primary school. I was thinking to myself that I must’ve been a pretty good little player to beat my dad, who was a versatile and accomplished sportsman.
The twinge of Father Time is felt all through the 18 clubs at this time of year. So many great players have called time on their careers already in the last few weeks.
Then I had a flash of memory, a foggy image of launching the ball from the service line. In an instant the bubble burst. Suddenly I saw things much clearer. ”He used to let me win.”
‘As the warm-up drills started on the basketball court, the ball came my way and within a minute I’d missed twice… by a long way’
When I was a kid I just assumed that when I was fully grown I would be able to dunk the basketball. I stopped playing basketball competitively when I was about 14 or 15, so it’s only in recent months that I’ve come to realise the unfortunate truth. I can’t dunk. I won’t dunk. I will never dunk.
That’s one of the hard things about growing up that I’m starting to see all too often: life isn’t just a matter of crossing off a neverending list of accomplishments, it’s more a case of watching on helplessly as yet another thing is added to the list of things you’ll never do.
I was never much of a shooter, but when I missed two lay-ups in a row in front of my teammates recently, I took it pretty hard.
To break up the monotonous routine that a football season can become, the coaches had decided to set up a basketball-themed warm-up before our recovery skills session out on the cold and windy Whitten Oval a few weeks ago. Most of the young blokes at our footy club fancy themselves as basketballers; a few of them dress like NBA players, too.
When I told them that I used to be pretty handy as a kid playing for the Warragul Gladiators, they didn’t pay me much attention. To be frank, I was dismissed like a silly old man talking about his heyday.
As the warm-up drills started on the basketball court, the ball came my way and within a minute I’d missed twice. I loped up to the basket, caressed the ball onto the backboard … and missed. By a long way.
I got that awful twinge. Am I past it?
I was still thinking about the missed shots a few days later, the memories tugging at my thoughts. It didn’t help that Lin Jong and a few others kept reminding me about my clunky shooting every time I passed them at the kennel.
This traumatic event has forced me into action. As a way for my wife and three children to spend some quality time together, we’re all working on our jump shots. On most afternoons you’ll find the Murphys up at the local primary school throwing sky hooks and bucket shots.
The first few practice sessions were pretty diabolical. I couldn’t make a basket, and each time I shot the ball it felt different to the last. I had no rhythm, an uncomfortable state that was made even more acute by the fact that every time our little four-year-old Frankie got the ball, she headed for the playground. I don’t know what sport she thinks we’re playing.
Justine is the best shooter in our family. She has this uncanny knack of scoring points when no one is watching. Six-year-old Jarvis is tall and might one day become a fine basketball player – if he picks up the ball instead of climbing trees. And Delilah (six months old), it has to be said, is poor on defence. To anyone passing by, we must look a sight.
‘Is there a sweeter sound in sport than ”swish”?’
This week’s practice sessions have seen improvement in all of us. Is there a sweeter sound in sport than ”swish”?
In the AFL, the twinge of Father Time is felt all through the 18 clubs at this time of year. So many great players have called time on their careers already in the last few weeks, and there would be plenty still who will be tussling with the toughest question of all for a footballer to answer: Am I past it?
After mulling it over myself in recent months, I was very excited and grateful to sign on for another year at my football club. Fifteen years down this old road and I still like the scenery. Who knows when it will end?
At our family shootout last night, I decided to give it one more go. I wanted to try for a slam dunk. With my family of cheerleaders there to witness it, I dribbled, ran and launched for the basket. SLAM DUNK!
It was a moment of pure exhilaration, one I really hammed up for the kids. Always the voice of reason, Justine rightly pointed out in a whisper, ”That basketball ring isn’t regulation height you know …”
”It doesn’t matter,” I shot back. ”It’ll be years before the kids know the truth about their slam-dunking dad.”
My dad let me win, and I love that about him. Perhaps my three will be just as understanding.
This article was originally published in The Age and can be accessed here.