Book of the Week—Geezerball

I’m on a nice little reading roll, meaning a book a week. This week I cheated though when I subbed in a fun, short read, for a long, dryish, academic one that I was plodding through.

Geezerball: North Carolina Basketball at its Eldest (Sort of a Memoir) by Richie Zweigenhaft tells the story of the Guilford College noon pickup basketball game that I played in between 1993-1998 when I taught at the “small Quaker college”. The game is 44 years old and counting and some of the participants have been playing most or all of those years. One of the game’s mottos is “You don’t stop playing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop playing.”

Richie, also known as “The Commissioner” is an accomplished author of several books on diversity in the American power structure. Now 75 years young, he’s the glue that’s held the game together over the decades.

Geezerball prompted a lot of reminiscing about those years and reflection on what’s most important in life. I remember 11 of the 29 players on the current geezer email list which is pretty remarkable given how bad I am with names. It also speaks to the game’s stability and what demographers have been telling us for awhile—that Americans aren’t moving nearly as much as in the past.

The game combines two of the very few things upon which most medical doctors and social scientists respectively agree—the importance of exercise to our physical health and the importance of close interpersonal relationships to our mental health.

“My wife says she expects to get a call one day saying I’ve died on the basketball court,” one geezer writes in the book. “If that happens, she’ll know I died happy.” In actuality, the game is probably extending the life of the participants. Even more importantly, it’s adding tremendously to the quality of their lives. Their friendships, and the humor that marks their interactions, are testaments to the power of community.

Among other remarkable aspects of the game is the fact that nearly all the participants are men. As a runner, I can’t help but notice more women running together; like the geezers, strengthening their bodies, their hearts, and their minds simultaneously. Same with the Gal Pal and her girlfriends who go on long walks every Saturday morning while catching up on the week’s events. I don’t know if it’s true, but it seems like men are more prone than women to prioritize their work lives, often to their own detriment. Given that, I find it inspiring that a dozen men in Greensboro, NC have been defying that norm every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 44 years.

The sort of memoir reminded me of exactly how cool of an addendum the game is to the participants’ lives. But now, upon further thought, I can’t help but wonder if when those men near the end of their lives, they’ll think of the game as one of the most essential parts of their lives, and their work as more of an addendum. Meaning, what if we all have it backwards? What if the GalPal’s Saturday morning walks, my Saturday morning group runs, my Tuesday and Thursday night group rides are the core and everything else is the periphery?

This line of thinking may be just one more example of my economic privilege at work, but I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we organized our lives around Geezerball-like communities, where we prioritized movement and friendship over material wealth and status? Put another way, how much is enough? When it comes to work hours and money, there’s always a point of diminishing returns. At a certain point, more work means more impoverished relationships with family and friends.

In contrast, when it comes to walking, running, cycling, swimming, surfing, or playing basketball or golf with friends, there is no point of diminishing returns. Our physical and mental health just keep improving. Our entire well-being. That’s the lesson of Geezerball.

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