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Victor Burt Headshot

It's Not a Game

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The alarm sounds.

It's five o'clock in the damn morning.

I kill the alarm, grimacing in anger.

Stubborn, yet resilient, the alarm persists: 5:05, 5:07, finally at 5:10. Begrudgingly, I wake.

The green mile to the bathroom is treacherous. However, the water hits my face and I'm that much closer towards reaching equilibrium.

Extra T-shirts? Check.
Chewing gum? Check.
First-Aid kit? Check.

Thoughts of "Why the hell am I awake this early?" creep into my psyche. But stepping outside and breathing in the morning air, it finally comes into focus. I'm headed to the gym.

For 30+ years, a select group of individuals (mostly men, but at times women as well) have joined to play pickup basketball. What began as a few weekend games between employees from the Brooklyn Union Gas Co. and the Brooklyn Judicial Court at the old Eastern Athletic Club grew into a noon game during lunch break, and eventually, morning open courts. However, when the EAC underwent renovation and installed a pool, it did so at the expense of uprooting the basketball courts and consequently its loyal "roundballers."

Scrambling to find a new home, many of the former EAC members transferred their membership to the newly constructed Dodge YMCA in 2005 and have been there since.

Having been an athlete in high school and college, competition comes naturally. New York (like most major cities) forces you to constantly shield yourself from the barrage of imperceptible and often times unexpected hits (think: customer service reps, rush-hour commutes, rent increases, etc.). A sanctuary where you can see the hits coming and a hit back can be extremely therapeutic. Some try yoga, crocheting, Pilates, kickboxing, dance and other creative outlets. My release has always been basketball. So, while searching for a game, but also a reason to stay active/healthy, I finally stumbled into the Dodge Y. It would be two years before I finally discovered this collective (affectionately termed "Morning Run") and became a faithful attendee.

Over the years I've joined various athletic leagues where each had its own unique culture and community. The Y was no exception. However, the more I kept going the more I realized there was something special happening.

Anyone who's played any kind of organized sports is familiar with the types of personalities that surface. Recognize any?

• The Enforcer - Enjoys physicality, oft times unnecessarily so
• The Great Debater - Finds any and every opportunity to dispute even the most meaningless discrepancy
• The Hero - Their glory days are a distant past, nevertheless believes they still got it
• The Anomaly - You're pretty sure they still haven't captured the basics, but it will never dissuade them from trying
• The Banshee - Close relative to The Great Debater, but louder... much louder

The list goes on and on. It also isn't unheard of for a person to carry more than one of these traits. But what makes these mavericks of the hardwood continue to assemble two to three times a week for over 30 years? Some might say cardio, or love of the game, but could it be more?

[At this time we ask that you please make sure all cells are turned off.
Avoid conversations with your neighbor.
If you must converse, please whisper.
In the unlikely event of an emergency, please take a moment to locate the exit nearest you.
Now please, sit back and enjoy the show!]

The sidelines are your front row seats to this athletic ballet.

In the course of a game, one gets the feeling that you're home for the holidays instead of a sweaty gymnasium. Arguments, chants of praise and at times even altercations can occur all in one sitting. But make no mistake, love and a deep respect for your fellow competitor abounds.

A few years ago one of the gentlemen passed away from heart complications. In attendance were his companions: The weekday warriors of the AM run. They shared fond memories of the infamous "Black Hole" -- where the ball enters never to return again -- and offered an endearing insight perhaps unknown to those closest to him.

When talking with some of the guys about the run the thing that was mentioned the least was staying in shape. Instead, guys spoke of networking opportunities, camaraderie, etc.

We now live in a world where what you do and who you are bleed together seamlessly. Don't believe me? Try mingling at a social engagement without being asked some variation of, "So, how do you make your living?"

As one gentleman stated: "We're all made up different professions. But on the court, divisions in social strata mean nothing; Our titles are substituted by "good, big man," "hustler" and "Hackappotamus."

Walt Whitman in his poem entitled "In Paths Untrodden" wrote:

"That the soul of man I speak for rejoices in comrades,
Here by myself away from the clank of the world,
Tallying and talk'd to here by tongues aromatic,
...
Resolv'd to sing no songs today but those of (human) attachment,
Projecting them along that substantial life,
Bequeathing hence types of athletic love,
...
To celebrate the need of comrades."

Searching for an extracurricular activity was important, but connecting with people in a way I never imagined possible, was vital. The groups we involve ourselves with don't define us, but they do offer us a glimpse into who we are and how we're perceived. The bonds that are formed can be even stronger than those of blood relation. You can't decide where you're born or who you're born to. But you do have complete authority over whom you spend that time with.

Each morning run I have the remarkable opportunity to come in contact with some phenomenal personalities, despite the pervasive litigiousness that comes with the territory. But more importantly, through each bump, shove, push and hit I am also much closer to refining, shaping, molding and sculpting myself into who I am.