I was in the hot tub Monday afternoon at the Capital Athletic Club, stretching my legs in the churning water to get ready for the weekly pickup games with the over-40 crowd.
“Did you hear about Dan?” Frank asked me. He’s a regular who plays a banging defense and has carved out a spot in the corner for his long one-handers.
“Dan who?” I asked.
“The guy with the set shot?”
That how I knew Dan, a fellow I’ve played ball with at the club for years. He stood about 6-foot-3 and started his two-hand set shot from near the top of his head instead of his chest. This required him to jump slightly to get more oomph for his long-range shots. In the old days, he had remarkable consistency from 3-point land and had to be guarded 20 feet out. In recent years, he was less consistent but still, I wouldn’t give Dan an open shot.
“What about him?” I asked Frank.
“He died this morning.”
That made no sense, no sense at all.
“He was on the court last week, wasn’t he?”
“Yea, I think so.”
How could a guy who was running up and down the court with us a week before possibly be dead?
“I heard he had a stroke or a heart attack,” Frank said. “He had heart surgery a few years back.”
Frank headed off to the court. I finished my stretching routine and headed for the gym. On the game signup board, a player had posted a note about Dan’s death. I didn’t hear any talk about it. During my first game, a dispute arose about a called foul.
“Hey, no arguing today,” a player shouted. “Remember Dan.”
“Yea, remember Dan,” said another.
The game continued with no griping. The 40-and-over crew played their slow, deliberate style with a lot of picks and passing. About 10 guys waited for their turn on the court. I asked around and found out that Dan with the set shot was Dan Weldon, a retired lobbyist and graduate of Cal Poly. He was 65.
Over the years, the limited sideline talk has usually focused on the game, how the Kings are doing, players’ strengths, weaknesses and peculiarities, the surgeries they’ve had and how those have affected their play. Many are veterans of knee surgery. A few have mentioned back surgery. Another fellow and I have had hip replacements. One guy collapsed on the court about five years and was resuscitated thanks to a defibrillator the club had on hand. Another fellow slightly older than I collapsed on the sideline after a game and died. There’s a plaque on the wall in his name.
The club pickup games bring together a bunch of guys with a shared interest in playing ball. There’s little interaction outside the gym. You know guys by their first names, the way they shoot, their idiosyncrasies – like the fellow who starts running in a square when he gets upset or the one who goes into full-pout mode. You hear a wisecrack about a divorce, a mention of a kid in college, the wife who keeps them in line.
The game’s the thing, and the gym’s our refuge. Death isn’t anything you want hanging around there.