The Time Has Come…


It is with a lot of emotion and a really heavy heart that I am announcing my retirement from basketball.  I realise that many of you reading this couldn’t care less, but those that know me best know that it is a momentous decision, and in some ways both an easy and difficult to decision to make.

I’m 52 years old now and have been playing for 40 years, pretty much non-stop.  Three years at the highest level possible in the UK; training with the best 3 hours a night, 7 nights a week.  To say that it’s taken a toll on my body would be an understatement.  Saying that, I consider myself lucky – the knees are the original ones (no replacements necessary as some of my previous teammates have had to endure) and, at the moment, I’m in the best shape I’ve been in for a while.  So why make the decision to step away from the court ?

Turn the clock back to the early 1990’s – I broke my neck playing in a game when I collided with a teammate (the top of my head hitting him in the chest whilst I was bent over).  After much panic and a very short period of mild paralysis the medical news was that the vertebrae wasn’t healing, and never would.  There was a danger that any contact (in a non-contact sport !) in the future would damage the bone further and risk damage to the spinal cord.  Specialist advice was to quit playing.  Tough news for a 20+ year old whose passion was basketball; the only thing I’ve ever been any good at.  Further discussion then provided a glimmer of what can loosely be described as an excuse to continue and so I decided to continue playing.

So, for the last 30 years or so I’ve been playing with a shadow over me.  I’d not really paid much attention to it until recently.  The mind still thinks it’s 18 but the body knows better.  Having played as much as I have over the years it’s bound to have taken its toll on my joints; I joke with my son that whilst most of my body is 52 my knees are considerably older. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of injuries – numerous broken bones, torn Achilles, knee cartilage issues, popped every finger on both hands at least once, have what the Doc referred to as “Gamekeepers’ Thumbs” … but it’s never stopped me from lacing them up.

Things changed in July 2021 when I was lucky enough to be invited for trials for the GB Maxibasketball Men’s 50+ team.  The first camp in Sheffield playing with some of the games’ best saw a bruised jaw in the first scrimmage and a torn bicep in the second.  Dutifully strapped (the bicep not the jaw) I continued the weekend, but wasn’t at my best.  The following camp fared no better with an annoying knee injury on the first day (gastrocnemius muscle which I didn’t even know existed until then) that required physio on both Sat night and Sunday morning… copious lengths of kinesiology tape and a few painkillers later and I managed to finish the weekend.  I think I lasted three camps before, unsurprisingly, being cut; to be fair, I think it was a hugely optimistic thought that I might make it anyway, but I’m grateful for the opportunity and had a great time.  Like every other basketball experience over the years, I made some lifelong friends; an outcome from basketball that is probably my greatest achievement.

Since then, my knee hasn’t been the same but there are more serious issues that have led to my decision.  I’d had a conversation with my wife after the GB camps that I probably needed to think about retiring but wanted to do it on my terms rather than when my body forced me to.  Last November my body gave me a serious hint that it might be time when I experienced a minor heart issue.  That scared the shit out of me.  I was overweight, have high blood pressure, at risk of serious heart issues and felt that it was selfish of me to continue playing for my own gratification whilst risking affecting those that I love.

We joined the gym in January and I’ve lost over a stone in weight, have put on some much-needed muscle mass and feel great (most of the time).  So, the imp on one shoulder is saying “Why are you thinking of stopping ?” whilst his counterpart on the opposite one is countering with “Don’t be a dick !”

So, for once I’m not going to be a dick ! My stint with my veteran colleagues playing under the guise of Sussex Raptors (a bunch of old dinosaurs from Sussex) at GB Masters in Norwich in mid-June will be my last competitive basketball as a player.  I still fully intend to be involved in the sport I love; am honoured to be coaching the Worthing Thunder Ladies team again next season, but my boots will be hung up.

I owe a debt of gratitude to so many people over the past 40 years so strap yourselves in for a long list of names (and in no particular order) …

Firstly, my high school PE teachers Rob Fountain and Dave Thomas who sparked my interest in the game from the age of 12 and gave me the keys to the gym to follow my passion.

One of the greatest teachers of all time, Paul Kaczmarek (my Geography teacher) who invited me to play for my first competitive team; Durrington Dogs in the Sussex League, and to all my teammates on that squad who had to put up with a real rookie (Geoff Jago, Bob Taylor and the Pegler brothers).

Nissan Worthing Bears’ Point Guard, Craig Evans, who was contracted to attend our High School to help out with “the kids”, and who became a coach, a role model and more importantly, a friend.

The great Jerry Jenkins whom a chance encounter with at a high school tournament changed the course of my life, forever.  Jerry was captain of the Bears when I was mopping the sweat off the court and over the years became a lifelong friend.

Brain Waghorn, who let my friend Steve and I into the Worthing Leisure Centre for free if we helped prepare the court for the evenings’ game, gave us the role of sweat moppers, promoted me later to Assistant Team Manager and whose presence in Sussex over the years has been constant.

Coach Dale Shackleford who, for some obscure reason, gave me my big break when he asked me to play for the Worthing Bears in 1990.  It was an honour to be led by Shack, it’s a shame it was only for the one season before he went back to the States, but the things he taught me about the game (and beyond) have helped make me the man I am today – I can never thank him enough.

All of my teammates on the Worthing Bears’ squad over the years – Alan Cunningham, Allan Prescott, Andy Knight, Bryan Heron, Chris Wright, Cleave Lewis, Colin Irish, Drew Sewell, Gary Smith, Herman Harried, Kalpatrick Wells, Keith Mulholland, Leo Rogers, Mark Hubbard, Mark Scott, Mike Spaid, Neville Searchwell, Phil Pearce, Ronnie Baker, Simon Hill and Steve Nelson.  And not forgetting Assistant Coach, Neil McElduff.

To all of the refs, table officials and arena staff without whom none of us would get to play – special mention to referee Noel Malone whom a chance encounter with in Eastbourne a few years ago brought back some great memories.  Always a pleasure to reminisce with him about the “good old days”.

To all of the players who joined me on the journey of starting our own local league team, Worthing AOK, and who became my extended family for a number of years – there are too many of you to mention without feeling like I’m doing a disservice of missing people out… but special mention must go to Matt Horner, Ian Hooker, Adrian Sleeth, Chris Hodge, Dave Hazelwood, Lee Evans, Fred McKibbin, Graham Cornish, Richard Strongman, the Peck brothers and of course, Paul Grimwood.

To all of the Sussex League teams I’ve played against over the years, especially to those players who made their best attempts to “get to me” but who had the opposite effect and awakened the beast – I won’t embarrass anyone by mentioning them by name; you know who you are.  Three gentlemen who stand out who provided me with great support and friendship; Steve Munn, Mark Vincent and Ray Varley.  It’s been a pleasure !

To all of my college teammates at Chichester (especially Dave Simpson, Leo Kelly, Dave Bobker and Andy Gooday), my teammates on the Westgate Centurions team, and to Coach Peter Ray whose guidance and teachings will forever be the foundations of my game.  I forgive you for beating me 98-99 when I challenged you to a free-throw contest.

All of the players who have joined me on our Sunday “runs” with the Sussex Vets/Raptors.  Old friendships rekindled and new ones begun.

To the Sussex Massive who experienced the highs and lows of GB Masters trials with me; Paul Goss, Danny Graves, Alex Winter and Alan Elborough.  It was an honour gentlemen !

To the Sussex Raptors teammates that I’ve had the pleasure of playing with in Brighton, Manchester and Norwich.

There are four people who haven’t been named yet but would have appeared in many of the teams already mentioned but whom deserve their own comment.  My lifelong friends Steve Mansell and Graeme Lloyd, whom I went to school with and have spent the most time dishing passes to, stealing the ball off, being turned over by, fouling, being fouled by and sharing the best of times on the court.  Thank you to both of you for helping me improve my game, for being there when I needed you and for allowing me to be me !

My big brother Chris, who shared in the dream of starting Worthing AOK, joined me on the Bears’ bench as Team Manager giving us a wealth of memories and stories that we still talk about regularly.  Thank you for allowing me to shine whilst being there to support.

And last, but by no means least – my beautiful wife Tracey.  One of the reasons I took up basketball in the early 1980’s was to, laughably, “get the girls” … I fear it may have had quite the opposite effect (my choice of basketball footwear at school was the main reason). But the man that basketball moulded me into through my upbringing on the hardwood finally won her over.  Her unwavering support for me following my passion of basketball is truly priceless.  Thank you for supporting my dreams, for nursing me through my injuries and for never asking “Why ?”.

I’ve dished out more assists than I’ve scored points, missed some easy shots, committed some stupid fouls, can’t claim to have hit the clutch game winner, lost games I should have won, turned the ball over far too many times, not played as many minutes as I would have liked at National League… but, you know what, I’m fine with that ! I feel privileged to have been in a position to have failed at them all at the highest level and with a great cadre of teammates.

Of all the memories, stories, experiences and opportunities basketball has given me, the greatest gift has been the friendships I’ve made (and continue to make) along the way.  Everyone on the journey over the last 40 years has touched my heart in some way and for that I shall be eternally grateful.  I have made lifelong friends across the globe who continue to entertain and inspire me and it’s all down to a 29.5” round leather ball – thank you Mr James Naismith !