Jump shots among generations build bonds in basketball crewThe sounds of a bouncing basketball and the squeak of running shoes echo dissonantly across the hardwood floor in the Seoul Y.M.C.A. gymnasium on Jongno-3ga. Panting, whistle blows, yells for defense ― they add to the intense atmosphere of the cavernous gym. Despite a lack of heating during this cold winter, the game seems feverish. So far so good. But something doesn’t seem right. There are young men showing off fancy dribbles and lay-ups, as to be expected, and then there are gray-haired men who seemingly come out of nowhere to shoot three-pointers down the line.
Welcome to the Business Men’s Club (BMC) basketball team. Affiliated with the Y.M.C.A., this basketball team has been around for 33 years since 1973 and its history speaks for itself. The members range in age from their 30s to their 60s. This isn’t to say seeing 60-year-olds play basketball is strange; we know 60 isn’t considered that old anymore. The question is: where do these gray-haired men find the energy to run around the court for hours playing a sport that tires out the young in less than five minutes?
The answer is rather simple. These men have worked out regularly for the past three decades. Then how did they continue to play the same sport for 30 odd years? J-Style concluded it was because they were hooked on basketball, but mostly on their teammates. They discovered they could have fun playing basketball with great people and get a good workout ― something that needed to be done for their health anyway.
Our suggestion to those whose New Year’s resolutions to exercise regularly never last more than three days and those who feel the need for exercise but forgot to make a resolution, is: “Let’s get hooked too!” A vigorous workout will help you sweat it out and have fun, while your health improves as a bonus.
Who plays basketball past the age of 60? These men have been playing for 25 years!
How? By playing together!
Exercising together makes it fun and motivating!
That’s how you continue working out!
BMC meets twice a week on Wednesday and Friday, and the 28 members are divided into two teams, the red team and the blue team, taking into account their age differences. They keep score for two months and the losing team collects 30,000 won ($30) from each member to buy the winning team samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup). If it ends in a draw at 4 wins and 4 losses each, everyone pitches in 15,000 won and goes out to dinner together. A new rotation is formed at dinner and a new league begins the following week.
It may seem like there isn’t much at stake, but a game is a game. Cho Gwang-sik, current president of the basketball team, is the oldest member on the team, in terms of both age and experience. He’s been part of the club since 1976. He says, “On the day of a game, I send out mass text messages to my team members and tell them they must show up. The other team is excluded from my list.” The other team of course has its own captain to send out the text messages.
When the game is this intense, noone gets let off easily regardless of how old they are. Given the chance, the younger men don’t hesitate to steal the ball away from their elders, and the elders don’t expect the younger men to yield a single point. They know that this is the only way to keep the club going strong. On the court, it’s all about fitness and skills. Park Wan-geun, a member since 1981, boasts sufficient stamina for a full-length game. He says he finds it increasingly difficult to wrestle for the ball with men some 30 years younger than him, but still feels confident about his shooting ability. The others agreed, saying he gets in about eight out of 10 three-pointers on a given day.
Park added, “When I go for my regular check-ups, they tell me I have the cardiorespiratory system of a 20 year old. If I don’t work out for a few days, then I start to get short of breath and feel my thighs go soft.”
Thanks to a daily workout regimen, he has maintained his weight of 67 kilograms (147 pounds) for the past 30 years.
Some even come back in the middle of an overseas business trip to play the game
The players get even more intense when they play a team from another club. The BMC basketball team participates in five to six outside tournaments every year.
“If we don’t do well in these tournaments, we suffer a miserable year. The elders won’t stop nagging at us,” says Lee Gak-yong, a member since 1989 and a former president. He recalled an incident from when he used to be president. They had an important game coming up against another club, but one of the starters was away on a business trip. Mr. Lee made an overseas call to China and asked him to fly in for the game. The starter complied. He flew in on Saturday night to play the game on Sunday morning and left again on Sunday night. They won that game.
BMC offers other activities besides basketball. There are teams for hiking, swimming, jogging and golf. Sometimes these teams compete against each other with one another’s sport but usually they compete with soccer, which they call a neutral sport.
But the basketball team is by far the strongest team, and it is also the oldest. Rumor has it that the BMC volleyball team broke up after they lost a volleyball match to the BMC basketball team. The basketball team has played together for so long that a quick glance sends a signal. An even more important factor is their determination and grit. They are known to be especially competitive, even in friendly matches.
The current president of the basketball team, Lim Seong-taek, was actually scouted for the BMC soccer team eight years ago. A huge soccer fan from early on, he was even named MVP of the Mayor’s Sports Competition sponsored by the City of Seoul. But basketball was something new.
“It was my first time touching a basketball. The weird thing was, I’m naturally a very fast person, so I used to play right wing in soccer, and in basketball too, I would get to the area under the basket before anyone else, but the ball just wouldn’t go in. My ego was bruised and I started practicing hard after that.” Since then, Mr. Lim hasn’t put on his soccer shoes. He was hooked on basketball, but more so on the BMC basketball team.
The BMC basketball team isn’t just about winning. This is demonstrated through the fact that there are current members who don’t quite understand basketball rules yet. “Only taking in people who excel in sports is elite physical education, not social physical education, which is what our club is about,” says Mr. Cho.
A few years ago, a tall, lanky guy came to join the club. At 188 centimeters (6-foot-2), Lee Ju-han was easily the tallest man there. He was immediately assigned to play center, but had trouble keeping up with the drills. One of the senior members scolded him and said, “You’re not too bright, are you?” Six years later, Mr. Lee is now the starting center. He recalled his first year and laughed. “I actually have a Ph. D. in physics. It was the first time anyone called me dumb.”
BMC members aim to have fun, rather than to become highly skilled players. Some members suggested in the past that they get lessons from a famous coach or go to a training camp, but most were against the idea. Their main reason for playing basketball was to get a fun workout and they were already getting that.
The elders learn from the youth, and the youth learn from the elders
Their practice session lasts an hour from 5 to 6 p.m. on a weekday. Most people would still be at work at that hour ― a reason why the team hasn’t expanded much. Naturally, most of the members are self-employed or have a professional occupation. They have tried to change the time of practice a number of times, but the YMCA gym is fully booked all year long and they couldn’t reschedule.
The team doesn’t waste a minute of their one-hour practice session. Normally they would play a game of four 10-minute quarters without taking a break, except when they’re switching players. If they happen to have some practice time left after a game, then that time is used to play an overtime game. The BMC basketball team has its own rules too. There are no free throws following a foul. Instead, if a team commits more than five fouls, every foul after that would give the other team a point. These rules were devised so that they could use their limited time on the court most efficiently.
Frankly, it isn’t easy for people of different generations to get together and play the same sport. Overcoming that generation gap is one of the team’s main tasks, but at the same time, it bonds them. The elders learn to think young and stay healthy. The youth learn life lessons, and more importantly, learn that to be able to run on the court when they grow old, they need to exercise regularly now.
by Lee Hoon-beom