I imagine that when the lights went off, the Ghost of Pete Maravich came out to run ball-handling drills across the battered floorboards.
On Friday, Oct. 31, the Downtown YMCA of San Diego closed its doors for the final time. Where do all the old ballers go now? The guys with the pointed elbows, who represent the promise of full frontal locker room nudity after the game; what becomes of the aged, shirtless lawyer in the bandana who used his low center of gravity to throw hip-shot-box-outs, or the dude with the off-balance set shot always guzzling down Starbucks before playing? Do the hairy backed rage monsters and past their prime arguers find a new basketball playing community to call their own?
How could they? Many of them had been playing on this court since Hanson was a chart topper. Their eccentricities already accepted, perhaps even admired — If Jon the Weeble had slapped cross-eyed T in the face over a loose ball in any other basketball enclave he would have assuredly become the victim of an assault so vicious, only Jim Ross could narrate it. But at the Downtown Y, it was all part of the game.
Sure, there were better players — younger, and quicker — elsewhere, but why would I have ever wanted to play with them when I had the Downtown Y?
Opened in 1882, the gym, which shared the building with a café and hostel, had no frills, no new equipment, and at times no electricity. Smaller than a regulation court, and with a running track in the rafters taking away the possibility of corner threes, ambitious newbs often jacked shots up from Ray Allen territory, the ball ricocheting off of the track, followed by chants of “rookie” from court veterans.
At one time, there was a scoreboard, then a clock, and then in the end, games were timed by cell phone. Populated by a lot of lawyers, an ABA player, young transplants, and the unemployed, lunch-time games ignored the standard meritocracy, opting instead for a form of basketball socialism where winners couldn’t play more than two games in a row if guys were waiting — every game guaranteed an argument over what the score actually was.
The characters made this place special. There was Black Mo (presumably for Maurice), Indian Mo (presumably for Mohammed,) and Old Mo (Presumably for… Morris?). There was Jim the hack, with the surprisingly young wife, whose big Halloween joke was coming dressed as a referee; Cha, who reeked of menthol and was missing most of his front teeth. You liked everybody, but also kind of hated everyone simultaneously. Guys brought out the best of athletic competition in each other. (more…)