Growing up, sports were my life. I was that boy who always had a ball in his hand. The glory of a perfect head fake was never more than a bike ride away. Absent others, I could amuse myself for hours at a time shooting baskets, practicing bicycle kicks or playing catch against a wall with my lacrosse stick. During the winter, my pal Boots Friedman and I would spend entire days playing one-on-one in my basement with a tennis ball and a piece of metal strapping we formed into a basket and screwed into the cinderblock wall.
As it happened, all that practicing paid off. Despite a 2.8 GPA in high school, I was invited to attend Emory University and to try out for the soccer team. I made varsity as a freshman, sat mostly on the bench for a year and then quit to pursue a more well-rounded agenda, which included a career as a writer.
But I continued to play sports; it couldn’t be any other way. Intramurals were my first taste of the spirit behind the Regular Game, where people make a special effort to come together for the love of playing and also for the personal glory, that sense of self you get from completing a perfect no-look assist, catching a high pass on the sidelines and keeping both feet in bounds, smacking a walk-off homer in a company softball game—those great little moments for the personal highlight reel.
Twenty or 30 years from now, nobody will remember.
In the Regular Game, you’re always LeBron.
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Peter takes a pass under the basket, gathers himself, fakes a shot on Twinkletoes and throws it back out to Knee-High Stockings on the perimeter. As it happens, I’ve been guesting at Peter’s regular games since we were both in our 20s; my favorite was the Tuesday night game in the tiny gymnasium at PS 6 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, on 81st Street between Park and Madison. After playing, we’d always hit a diner, four to a booth. In high school and college, if you’re lucky, you make good friends and learn to appreciate the value of male company. Forever afterward, as life changes and contracts and becomes more work- and family-oriented, you feel the loss. On these nights of the regular game, I once again had fraternity—a primal need a man never outgrows.