Playing Basketball With Strangers Returned a Semblance of Normalcy

Ryan Fan

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Ever since receiving both doses of my Pfizer vaccine, there are simply more life activities I can do again. One of them is playing basketball with strangers.

My friend and I went to the park to play basketball, just shooting around and not doing anything too active. We encountered two Hispanic guys hanging around out court watching. We asked if they wanted to play, and they looked a bit in bewilderment at us.

“Quieres jugar?” I asked with my poor Spanish accent, and then we used hand motions to determine teams.

I would be on a team with my friend, while the two guys would be on a team together. I asked their names, and one of them was Corrado, but I didn’t quite get the second man’s name.

Ever since receiving both doses of my Pfizer vaccine, there are simply more life activities I can do again. One of them is playing basketball with strangers.

We were both runners in college, and if you’ve ever seen runners play basketball, there’s a usual mold (unless the runner has played basketball before). Usually, runners have a lot of athleticism but tend to have not that much skill. That meant my friend and I could barely make a jump shot, let alone layups, the most basic shots in basketball.

Corrado and his friend were better shooters than us on this pavement park basketball hoop, but we were all around the same height, so my friend and I outrebounded the two men.

It was two straight hours of sprinting, jumping, and aggressively driving to the hoop in hopes of actually making a basket.

While I struggle making open layups, I will say I have a gnarly hook shot while being guarded by two people. As a runner, I pride myself on my hustle, but I also pride myself on my defense. I didn’t defend the strangers too hard, but I played tight, lockdown defense on my friend.

Without going into the nitty-gritty details, we played for about two hours, leaving us all exhausted and sweating profusely. Wearing a mask while playing basketball for the full two hours left me gasping for air a couple of times, but it was all for fun.

The next day, I was so sore I turned around and stopped running after 30 seconds.

During the pandemic, we have spent so much time being distrustful and skeptical of our neighbors. To not have that fear and skepticism, to shake hands with strangers and play basketball with them left me with a smile on my face. It certainly is not something I would have felt safe doing before getting my vaccine, but now that I am fully vaccinated, playing basketball with strangers returned a semblance of normalcy.

According to CDC guidelines, there are simply more gatherings and activities we can undertake once we get vaccinated. I am aware not every part of the world is seeing its COVID cases subside and vaccination campaigns be successful. Many countries around the world are under lockdown, and who knows what will happen with new variants of the disease.

To not have that fear and skepticism, to shake hands with strangers and play basketball with them left me with a smile on my face.

For me, much of the casual basketball pickup games were an exercise in getting out of my comfort zone. I had to speak Spanish for the first time in ages, and for words I forgot how to say, I had to intuitively use hand signals.

At one point, we switched teams, where I would play with Corrado’s friend and my friend would be playing with Corrado. To make the gesture that I wanted to switch out the teams, I pointed one finger at him and one finger at myself and said “nosotros” (us). However, I didn’t know how to finish what I was trying to say (us vs. you). Corrado seemed to pick up on what I was trying to say — and he said “nosotros y ustedes.” I nodded enthusiastically, realizing how difficult it was to communicate when you have a language barrier.

I took advanced Spanish classes in college, and the fact that I could barely communicate was a sign of how far I’ve fallen, at least in terms of my speaking and understanding ability. I would love to say we stayed in touch with Corrado and his friend and started hanging out together, but we bade the two men farewell after exhaustively playing two hours of basketball. Baltimore, for all intents and purposes, is a pretty large city, so in all likelihood, we’ll never see each other again.

Life is not going back to normal. There probably is no going back to normal after all of this. But just being trusting and active with strangers again was a lot of fun.

Originally published on May 2, 2021 on Age of Empathy.

Photo by Nicolás Gutiérrez on Unsplash

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Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of "The Wire," God's gift to the Earth. Support me: https://ko-fi.com/ryanfan

Baltimore, MD
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