Getting Older Sucks
Casey reflects on dealing with an aging body.
by Casey Jacobsen
I don’t know how many years I have left in my body to play basketball. I hope I have at least three more seasons, but nobody’s time in professional sports is guaranteed. As a an athlete, I am well aware of the fact that my career can end at any time due to physical injury or something else unforeseen. As I will turn 30 years old this season; I am the second-oldest person on my team in Bamberg, Germany. Just a few years ago, I was one of the youngest! How did that happen?
My nine-year career has already gone by in the blink of an eye. I can vividly remember my first training camp with the Phoenix Suns out in Flagstaff, AR on the campus of Northern Arizona University in 2002. My 21-year-old body could handle anything back then, and, although I was never described as “an incredible athlete” by NBA standards, I was pretty athletic for a white dude. Two-a-day practices during training camp? … Didn’t faze me. Back-to-back games in different cities?… No problem. Physically, I was up for any task. Mentally, the NBA overwhelmed my young mind.
Like almost every player who comes to the League, I was a star at the college level. I understood that I wasn’t going to be a star at the NBA level, but I did expect to compete for crunch time minutes with Phoenix and be a valued contributor. During the beginning of my rookie year, I sat the bench for most games. I ended up averaging around 15 minutes per game (in 72 appearances) for a decent team, but I felt like it was not enough for me to play to my potential. Mentally, it took all I could not to scream out in frustration. For the first time in my basketball career, I began to doubt myself. Anybody who has ever played sports at a high level knows that doubt is one of your biggest enemies.
Nine years later, I find myself out of the NBA but still very happy and fortunate to be continuing my career in Europe. I still love the game as much as I ever have… maybe more. Naturally, the more seasons I play the better my understanding of the game becomes. I know what my strengths and weaknesses are on the court. I feel comfortable in close games because I’ve been in those situations so many times. As my mind has strengthened over the years, it is now my physical body that is becoming my biggest challenge. It is as if the mental and physical roles have criss-crossed.
I am not claiming that my body is falling apart or anything. Actually, I feel pretty good and have been lucky to avoid major injuries (I’m knocking on wood as I type this) thus far. Of course, I have played with minor pain, sickness and fatigue throughout my career, but so does everybody. What I am struggling with is the fact that my body is slowing getting older and that I can’t do the things that I once could.
A perfect example of this came this past preseason during an exhibition game in Germany. In the third quarter, a teammate stole the ball under the basket while I was guarding my man toward the top of the three-point line. As I saw my teammate knock the ball loose, I just released (a.k.a. “cherry picking”) and sprinted toward the other basket looking for a long pass. When I caught the ball, there was nobody around me. Ever since I was 15 years old, this was an easy dunk for me; a 100 percent shot. I don’t think I can think of a time when I didn’t dunk the ball in this situation during my pro career. So, without thinking, I went up for my usual two-handed “white boy” finish.
As I jumped to attempt the dunk, everything felt fine. There was just one problem: I wasn’t high enough. I got the ball over the rim, but not enough that I could throw it downward. The ball squirted off the side of the rim and my opponent grabbed the rebound. As the crowd moaned in pity, all I could do was smile (it was a pre-season game, after all!) and run back on defense.
That was the first time in my life that I had missed a dunk… and it will probably be the last. The reason it might be the last is because I think I’ll be laying the ball up from now on. Writing that sentence hurts me a little bit inside, but I have to be honest with myself. My dunks weren’t that sweet, anyway. My dunks lacked the originality and the pure athleticism needed to be stylish.
As boring as they were, I loved to dunk the ball. For a basketball player, it’s one of the most enjoyable feelings one can have on the court. If you’ve never done it before in front of a big crowd of screaming fans, then you won’t understand.
My body is telling me that it doesn’t want to jump as high as it used to. My legs are telling me that they don’t want to explode as quickly as they did in the early 2000s. My body never told my mind any of this, though. They never sat down together and had a meeting about how they were going to help me achieve my goals on the court this year. They should have. It would have saved me a little embarrassment… and 2 points.
Casey Jacobsen is a former SLAM High School First Team All-American and NCAA First Team All-American. He currently plays for Brose Baskets in Bamberg, Germany.