Why Shooting Hoops Is Such a Good Idea for Adults

Hucking endless J's reminds us of the importance of play

A view of a basketball net from below, blue sky above.
Whatever play means to you, pursue it as long as you can. To us, an empty court is pure paradise.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

I’d wager I’m one of the few people on the planet who listened to The Daily episode on Trump’s arraignment while air-balling three pointers.

I’ve taken to “temptation bundling” lately, a behavioral tactic by which you pair a task you need to do (maintain a working grasp of what’s going on in the world), with something you want to do (huck up a series of irresponsible turn-around J’s).

While the unlikely combo has proven highly effective and therapeutic for me the last few weeks, I didn’t start shooting hoops again to hack my afternoon or relax my brain.

I just realized — seemingly all at once — that the weather was turning, there was a court near my house I’d never taken advantage of, and if you’re willing to spend $30 online before 4 p.m., a brand-new indoor/outdoor Wilson will be on your front step by lunchtime the next day.

In the months since, shooting hoops has become a consistent highlight of my week.

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Some days, I’ve left my earbuds at home and shot around the way I used to as a kid — in my driveway, in flip flops, for hours at a time, only thoughts and dribbles for company. Our driveway was pretty narrow, which probably explains why my baseline jumper has long been MIA. But by the end of a summer, I’d be pretty automatic from the top of the key.

I didn’t have words for what I was doing at the time, but I know I loved the low-stakes improvisation of it all. I’d create games in my head, I’d shoot free throws with the game on the line, I wouldn’t let myself leave until I’d made a “half-courter.”

Shooting hoops is imagination in motion, which might sound beautiful, but it’s just a clunky way of describing “play.” I was playing. Adults don’t get enough of it — often due to a sort of default, unspoken choice. We figure we’ve had our time. We cede the floor.

And yet, you can feel that forsaking play is wrong, the very second that go out and try it again. In whatever form play may take for you: throwing a frisbee, scrambling on rocks, captaining one of those little motorized boats in a pond. It’s so easy to fall back into these actions. They feel natural, even when you’re not doing them so well (I spend most of my time chasing down rebounds).

Obviously, there’s a certain level of intergenerational etiquette that should be honored when you show up to a basketball court. If Gen Z or Alpha are angling to play, go find yourself a hoop somewhere else. In general, though, we’d do well to dissociate age from play. If you’ve got a body and a brain, you should use both to run around, take risks and maybe get a little better along the way.

Earlier this year, in fact, I saw an 80-year-old woman working on her left down at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Once I weathered my initial shock, I smiled, assuming she was preparing to play with some grandchildren come springtime. But I’d also like to think she was out there all for herself. She was moving pretty well, either way.

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