Hoops in Hell

The second day I was on campus, I didn’t have anything to do except for a Chinese placement test so I decided to go play basketball at the courts in the center of campus. Basketball is very popular here. There are 7 blacktop courts right at the heart of school, and in the evenings, most or all of the hoops have someone playing on them. My first day there, I sat and watched people play for about an hour. While I was there I met Cheech and Tang.

I met Cheech first. He came over and asked if he could talk to me. I think he wanted to practice his English, but he also had another motive. Cheech works for the Chinese television production company and one of his responsibilities is to recruit foreigners for casting in various productions, movies, shows, commercials, etc. He left me his card and said I could send him some pictures and they might call me for something. He said they do pay for your time. Hmm. Sounds like an adventure. Maybe “Chinese reality show star” will be the next thing to go on my resume. . . .Where did I put his card?

After Cheech left, Tang came over and sat down. He mostly just wanted to practice his English. He is a business student from Anhui province who is on summer vacation from his university across town. The Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU), where I am, is famous for having many foreigners come to study (and there are lots of foreigners), so he figured he would come to campus and find someone to talk to. He was successful in his objective. We talked for quite a while and I got to practice some Chinese with him.

After watching basketball for a while, I decided to come back the next day.  I am ashamed to admit this, but it had been two years since I played a game of basketball. Two entire years without playing once. Business school kept me pretty busy, but I probably could have worked in a game or two while I was there. I don’t know why I didn’t play. I don’t think that it I can attribute it to my love/hate relationship with the game—this time it was more a case of indifference.

Whatever it was, I picked a good day to return. The heat index (heat+humidity), I later found out, had reached 117 degrees that day. I’m not sure what time of day it reached that, but I went to play at 5:00pm, and I could still see the sun through the smog as I walked to the court. It was HOT, and must have been at least 90 degrees with a similar number for the humidity.

It didn’t take long to get onto a court. I asked Tang how to ask and subsequently asked a guy if I could shoot with him for a while. As I said before, I hadn’t shot in two years and it showed. The rim received lots of punishment from me that day. The net didn’t. After shooting for a while, two guys stopped by and we played 2 on 2. I could feel the soles of my feet beginning to warn me about playing too hard the first time back. At that point I ignored them.

After about 10 minutes, my teammate decided to go, and since it was his ball, the game ended abruptly. No problem. Two courts down there was a group of guys who needed one more to make even teams. I volunteered and the game was on. The first 30 minutes were fun. I still couldn’t shoot outside (I was in need of 15 minutes alone with a ball and a hoop) but other than that my body did remember what it was supposed to do. The guys I was playing were not great players, but they were good enough to make it fun. The group was pretty easygoing.

The last 15 minutes were not so fun. Remember, it was 90/90 and I hadn’t played in two years, so playing for very long was a physical and mental challenge. I finally reached the point that it was time to stop for the day. It wasn’t so much a choice as a necessity. My head was throbbing, as if the blood in my face were boiling. Several times I could feel my stomach begin to surge upward toward my throat. In addition, there was a heavy, stinging pain at the top of my lungs that pushed forward, forcing me to stop each time I tried to take a deep breath. Had there been good reason to, I probably could have resumed playing after a short rest and rehydration. I didn’t fight it. I picked my backpack up, thanked the guys for playing and shuffled slowly to a nearby convenience store to get more liquids. Tang and I sat outside at a table for about 15 minutes and talked some more. When I got up, there was a puddle on the red brick tile below my chair. It literally looked like I had just jumped into the pool with my clothes on before sitting down. Whew. It was hard, but I’ll probably go back.