The Saturday Game

You Get A Two-For-One Deal With Me, Sweetheart

Richie Glover goes hard to the basket, and Kuppy slides over to cover him. The ball goes up -- they collide, arms entangled, sweat mingling, groans and gasps raised as one voice -- and they go down. Kuppy, somehow, ends up on top of Richie, belly to belly, cheek to cheek. Formidable bellies. Sweaty cheeks. After the thunder of the fall, the room is quiet. Is either guy hurt? Is one of them pissed? Obviously concerned, Billy says, "Look, it's two elephants mating!" Everyone cracks up, including the elephants.

That's The Saturday Game.

Some shots are just shots. Some shots are events. A Matty jumper, in the clear, is somewhere on the order of a solar eclipse, or a humble statement from Stephon Marbury; it just doesn't happen that often. At the end of every Saturday, Dave asks Matty how he did for the week. "He's always something like 1-for-1 or 0-for-0," Dave says. "If Matty gets two shots off that's a big, big week."

Seth, a 40-something, sets a mid-key pick and holds it, waiting for Matty, a 70-something, to come rolling around from right to left, with a clear path to the bucket. Matty isn't one to create on offense, but if you get him the ball in space, and let him launch his favorite little left-hand hook shot, you get two rewards: the points, and the beaming smile on his face. Matty tracks his made baskets week by week: "1-for-1, that's a great week for me," he says. Seth and the others track them, too. "If you can get Mattie a bucket, that's huge," he says.

That's The Saturday Game.

You ask Chip, the "hothead," the guy who had to suspend himself once upon a time, to recall a favorite memory from all the years he has played and, without skipping a beat, he says, "Every time I've run the pick-and-roll out there with my son. I can't even tell you what that feels like. It's an honor is what it is."

That's The Saturday Game.

Matty and the Commish go way back, to grade school. "They're like an old married couple," Schiff says. One tall, one short. One thin, one stout. Joined at the hip. So, anyway, when the Commish and his wife buy a new house years ago, after living outside New York for a short while, the Commish gives Matty a key. "I didn't even think about it," he says. He also didn't think to tell his wife. So Saturday morning comes, early, maybe a little before 8, and Matty heads over to the new house and lets himself in. It's game day; it's time to go. He walks in the front door, strolls through the living room, down the hall and to the bedroom. He opens the door, walks in and says, "It's Saturday, let's go!" The Commish and his wife are still in bed. She looks at Matty; she looks at the Commish; she looks, shall we say, incredulous. The Commish gets up out of bed, turns to her and says, "You get a two-for-one deal with me, sweetheart."

Matty (played 1983-present): "I have no game. I can't play. Truly. But I do love it."

And that, my friends, that moment when you wouldn't want to lay odds on who would get to keep his or her key if push came to shove, that moment when history is a passkey, for life, that's The Saturday Game.

You Reach A Point ...

"I didn't know how bad I was getting until we started to bring our sons into it," Schiff says, reaching out with both hands to rub his knees a bit. "When you play against people your same age, you and the guy guarding you or going against you are getting worse, getting slower, at the same pace. But when the next generation came ... then you knew how horrible you were."

The downside of playing in a game for years is the inevitable physical decline each guy goes through. "My legs just aren't moving like they used to," Dave says. You imagine yourself into spots you can't reach; you take shots only the younger you could pull off. There's a troubling, persistent dissonance. Socially, the game's everything it always was, but physically, it's ebbing from you. And you find yourself getting angry -- not just the run-of-the-mill "I had a bad shooting day" frustration, but a real seething thing, like you're failing yourself, like something's failing you. There's a pride that comes from still being out there at 55, 65, 70 and a tremendous boost when you prove you can still hold your own -- "I hit five straight shots the other day," Dave says, "and man, I needed a game like that, just to know I still had something to do out there" -- but some part of every week on the court means reckoning with loss.

"It would have been better if I'd never really had any game at all," Schiff says. "But there was a time I could play, and feel good about what I was doing, and then you reach a point where that's just not true anymore, and the whole game changes." And that's before we get to the nagging injuries, and the way they linger longer the older you get ...

So a lot of guys stepped away. Only Dave, Kenny and Matty are left from the old-school crew. But there have been infusions over the years. Jeff and his gang -- Chip, Seth, Amin, John and his brother James -- are the "new" blood, 20-year vets with "only" 40-odd years on their biological clocks. And after them, there's a new "new" gang: Omar and his brother, plus some others looking to get in should spots open up. It's not the same tight ship it once was; there's the occasional day when they have 16 or more. "I'm a little uncomfortable bossing people around like my father did," Jeff says, laughing. "But most of his rules are still basically how we run the game." And with the mix that has been brewing these past several years, there come different satisfactions. For the over-the-hill gang, it's the pleasure of surprising themselves and their younger, quicker opponents -- Kenny keeps a mental list of blocked shots he tallies on the young turks. For the guys in their prime and the kids coming up, it has been the chance to temper their ball-above-all instincts in the interest of the relationships they've built. "The game's matured me," Jeff says. "When I was younger, I was really, really competitive, and in The Saturday Game, I learned how to play hard but still know the guy I was guarding was a friend."

Maybe John (played 1990-present) will one day pass The Saturday Game along to Kristen.

And it's not just friends, it's fathers and sons. Three of Kuppy's boys have played in The Saturday Game. Schiff's son played. Kenny's, too. Dave's son, John, plays now. Chip's son comes out when he can. And Jeff keeps the Commish's seat warm, of course. Nat, a high school hoops coach, and one of a handful of black players in the game these days, brings his daughters sometimes, just to show the guys how it's done. "The game's evolved," he says. "We're a more diverse group than we used to be." Beyond the arc of any of the individual lives in the game, the game has a life of its own. It's not a point so much as a continuum -- it has generations, it has eras, it has a past and a future. Bobby's death, Schiff's failed ankles, they have counterpoints in whatever move Jeff put on Omar this week, in whatever baby hook Matty managed down low. "While it was happening for me, I never said, 'My God, this is something special,' " Kuppy says. "But looking back, and seeing it still go on now, I appreciate it. It's clear to me we've been a part of something."

Maybe that's what keeps Kenny, Dave and Matty suiting up. In addition to their love of the game, and thanks to bodies that -- knock on wood -- have hung on a little longer than some, maybe it's the simple sense of being caught up in something bigger than themselves, something that commands them in some quiet, steady way. "I don't know how to say it," Kenny tells me. "It just is. It's like you have to do it. It goes without saying. It's the game."