Gym Rats

 

Meet Dribblus Infinitum (n):  1. a rare species of athlete with an insatiable appetite for basketball;  2. An extremely agile animal with great mobility self-discipline and imagination, indigenous to the continental U.S.;  3. a relentless hunter who normally travels in small packs of five but can also be found alone stalking his favorite prey – the perfect game.

 

It is 7 o’clock on a bright chilly morning on a farm outside Cedar Rapids.  Waiting for the school bus, a lanky 15 year old wearing a letter jacket is working on his jumper.  The basket is new and perfectly straight and his ball, a shiny leather Larry Bird, hardly disturbs the net as it drops through the rim.  The music from his transistor is Garth Brooks.  His mother sighs and prays he’ll get over this fixation soon.  His father prays he’ll be back here tomorrow, practicing changeover dribbles and jump-hooks until the bus returns.

 

It is ten o’clock on a muggy night in the Bronx.  In the shadows of torn litter bags, street corner bums and passing cars, a group of shirtless youngsters are playing some three-on-three, their skinny frames silhouetted against the graffiti-scarred walls of the schoolyard.  The basket is drooping, has no net and a bent rim.

 

Their ball is a five dollar Patrick Ewing worn slick from endless pounding on cement.  Their music is Public Enemy.  Their mothers have long forgotten about them.  They’re “Gym Rats” and they’ll shoot hoop long into the night for hours, until the cops chase them away – again and again.

 

It actually makes little difference where they seek the sport – ghetto, barnyard, or prep school gym – for their venue is less important than their motivation.  They come in all sizes, colors, shapes, and ages, dressed in knee braces, wristbands, Michael Jordan T-shirts, cut-off jeans, hi-cuts, low-cuts and brand new sweats.

 

They’ll run ‘til exhausted then run some more.  They’ll spend an entire weekend in a steamy gym or on some deserted parking lot peddle or drive anywhere, anytime to find a game.  And when they’re not playing, eating, or sleeping hoop, they’re sitting at home watching a college doubleheader on the tube or draped over the second balcony at the Garden cheering the Celtics.

 

They’re basketball’s original hardcore – an elitist bunch filled with an all-consuming love of the game that constantly propels them toward an elusive target – the perfect game.  No fouls, no turnovers, no mistakes.


Shoot 100%, box out, move without the ball and squeeze every rebound.  They’re “Gym Rats.”  A while they have as much chance of playing “the perfect game” as stuffing David Robinson, they’re willing to pursue this ultimate goal, and this makes them not only better players but better teammates.