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B-Ball, by Dr. James Appel

It all starts when a giant enters my office.  He introduces himself as Theodore and tells me he plays for Chad’s national basketball team.  With his size, I don’t doubt it for an instant.

“How can I help you?”

“I have this pain in my shoulder sometimes after I play.”

I examine him and find he has impingement syndrome.  I also note that he has high blood pressure and is a little overweight.  Not good for an athlete in his late 20s.  I give him advice about the benefits of a vegan diet and what to do about his shoulder.  Then we talk basketball a little.

“Yeah, we play here in Moundou every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 4pm at the local high school just down the road.  You should come play some time.”

It’s a month before I have a free afternoon and take him up on his offer.  It’s Friday, the first day of Ramadan.  I arrive early.  The court is old with puddles of water on it from the recent rain and a lot of cracks, holes and rough, gravel filled cement.  Both backboards are leaning with un level rims and only one has a net.  I start shooting around.  A few other guys show up and we play some three on three until one guy gets an elbow to the face.  It looks like he’ll need stitches.  I jump in my VW Vanagon Campmobile and take him to the Surgery Center where I quickly sew up his laceration.

He tells me that there’s quite a few good players around, but no one to coach them.  He asks me if I will. I say I’ll consider it.

It’s not until the following Wednesday that I get a chance to go out again.  It’s rained and there is still a light drizzle.  The court is slippery and wet with multiple mud puddles making dribbling difficult.  Again, it takes a while but some young, tall athletic looking guys show up.  One has jogging pants, a non-matching jogging suit top and a pink beanie.  He’s wearing flip flops.  There are two barefoot early teens already there so we start a game of two on two.  Then a guy shows up in red shorts and strap on sandals as well as a lanky guy who plays barefoot.  We switch to three on three.  The guy in sandals starts throwing down with two hands, with his right and his left.  He’s on my side.  The tall lanky guy joins pink beanie dude and he has a sweet running hook and a smooth set shot.

These guys know how to play.  But there’s something missing; and it’s not just the fancy shoes.  There is no scowling, chest bumping, in your face arguing, yelling, posturing, swaggering, etc.  There is a lot of smiling, talking, laughing and joking.  What?  These guys are actually just out to have fun?  At basketball?  A game?  They’re not taking it too seriously?  What’s up with that?

Soon the two young guys drop out and a bowlegged guy wearing jeans, work boots and an orange shirt joins the other team.  Our team adds a slow, bulky middle man with nice inside moves and a decent mid range jumper.  Things heat up basketball wise but stay refreshingly low key on the social end.  Everyone’s enjoying himself.  Turns out the bow-legged guy never misses from outside and has a decent drive as well.  I’m having an impossible time covering him.  He does it all with a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.  It’s almost like he’s a kid having a good time.  What’s his problem?  Shouldn’t he be struttin’ his stuff and trash talking me?  Yelling over fouls?  These guys just accept it when someone calls a foul.  There’s no throwing the head back in disgust, shaking the head in disbelief, arguing, frowning, nothing.

Unfortunately, we’re all just enjoying a solid game of fundamental mixed with spectacular (as my teammate keeps dunking right and left with clever inside moves despite his average height)…it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.  It’s our big man.  His shoulder dislocated.  He says it happens a lot.  They’re trying to get it back in.  That’s when I notice Theodore has arrived on the sidelines.

“It’s your lucky day, there’s a doctor here.”  He motions to me and I move over wishing I had time and resources to look up and remind myself quickly how to reduce and anterior shoulder dislocation.  I try various maneuvers with him standing then tell him to lie on his back.

“Hey someone pull on his arm, straight out like this.  Someone else pull under his armpit in the opposite direction.”  I apply anterior pressure on the head of the humerus and after a few seconds, thankfully, it pops back into joint.

I sit and chat with Theodore for a bit.  He seems just like your typical athlete, articulate and intelligent…oh wait, I guess not like your typical American athlete.  But then again, these guys don’t act like American basketball players, they just play like them.

I drive home, my body is aching and showing it’s age, but my soul is content.

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