Bruce Rubin emailed me last month looking for help. He needed to find a center for his 3x3 basketball team.
The only catch is that this player had to be at least 75 years old.
Rubin is the captain of an old-man basketball team that has been together for 10 years. His team has competed at the National Senior Games since 2009, and they’ve qualified for the event again when it’s held in Albuquerque, N.M. next June.
There’s just one problem: his team’s big man is “too young”. So Rubin and his squad are looking for a player at least 6’4 who will be 75 years old by Dec. 31, 2019.
Playing competitive basketball later in life has taken Rubin across the country. His team’s next stop is a tournament in Delaware on Oct. 27. He noted he and his team would be willing to travel to a nearby tournament to meet a potential new teammate.
Rubin, who still does consulting in the world of consumer products, remains active in athletics and in life. He doesn’t see an end in sight for his playing days. His ultimate goal? To compete in the 85 and older division at the National Senior Games in 2029.
But first, he needs to find a teammate. We talked to Rubin about what he wants in a teammate, what old-man basketball looks like, and how to keep hooping into your 70s.
Know anyone who wants to play with Bruce? Email me at email@example.com
Ideally, what are you looking for in a teammate? I know you want a guy who’s over 6’4, so I assume that’s like a center or a big man type. Do you want a rebounder, a shot blocker, someone who can score in the post? What kind of skills are you looking for out of a teammate?
We don’t need a scorer, per say. We need a rebounder and somebody who can guard the other guy’s big man. Most teams have somebody that tall. We had somebody we played with for a few years, but last year he was sick when we went to a tournament in Birmingham. And unfortunately, he is a year younger. He will only turn 74 next year and the rest of us will be over 75. We want to move up and he understands that he is too young to be on our team. We want to replace him and he’s 6’5. He was a rebounder and a defender.
We played one team in Birmingham and the shortest guy was 6’5, but that’s unusual. The rest of us can shoot and score, so we don’t necessarily need a scorer.
I assume it has to be hard to find someone in that age group who’s that tall.
We know there are guys like that out there because we play against them. So, we know there are people in their 70s who are that tall and playing. It’s about finding a guy who isn’t aware of senior games and still playing.
How did you find your other teammates? And how do you sort of go about finding guys to play in that age group?
In 2008, my friend met two guys at local county games in Pennsylvania. I played with him all the time and he said “do you guys want to get together and form a three-on-three team?” We started playing and qualified in Pennsylvania, then went to the National Senior Games at Stanford.
On the senior games website, you can post whether you are looking for a player or looking for a team. One of my teammates found this guy, who said he was 6’2 and a good defender. It turns out that he was 5’10 and not a very good defender.
The following year, we played in Maryland. The three of us played against this tall guy named Steve. He was playing with people who were older than him. It was a time when we were going to enter the 70-age group and we asked him if he wanted to join us. Luckily, we also found another guy we played against and his team also was older. In 2013, we had a total of six of us. We were going to Cleveland to play for two weeks.
Two weeks later, a guy got injured. Another guy stopped playing and we ended up with five. In 2016, we won the bronze medal in Minneapolis. I tore my meniscus on Mother’s Day that year and wasn’t able to play until the middle of July.
Last year, Steve got hurt and we picked up another. He wasn’t necessarily a great team player, which is why we are looking for a fourth guy. The three core people have been together for 10 years. We already qualified to go to Albuquerque next June to play. We going to try to play in the Pennsylvania senior games for practice. Also, to see if there is anyone there who could join our team.
I think a lot of people are going to hear this and haven’t really consider there are seniors playing three-on-three basketball like this. I’m curious, what’s the game looks at that age? Is there a lot of guys taking set shots or dudes still driving to the rim? What does the game look like?
It depends on the team. The games are mostly a combination of a inside-out style of play.
It’s two 15 minute halves. The first 13 minutes are really light, so the clock doesn’t stop for foul shots or anything. The last two minutes are like regular basketball. During the first 13 minutes, whoever shoots the foul shots gets the ball back. The games are typically scored around the 40s or 50s. We once scored 98 points against a team that wasn’t very good.
There’s referees, usually one or maybe two. There is a pool of four or five teams playing. It use to be one division and they gave out medals. Now they divide teams into two or three divisions.
The games are fairly clean because you can foul out. Back in Cleveland, we received a fourth-place ribbon and we had three of us with one fouling out, so we had to play with two people. In Maryland, we were playing for the gold medal and we were trying to foul to stop the clock. Two of our guys fouled out and that ended up ending the game.
What does the competition look like out there? Are most of these guys former college basketball players?
A lot of them are former players. Some of them just played all their lives. I never played in college or high school. One of my teammates never played in college. The other two guys, Roger and Dave, played in college. Steve played in Division I at Furman. One guy not on the team played professionally in Europe. His name is Victor Deihl.
Years ago, there were rules that you can only have one out-of-state player. Now you can pick up players from anywhere.
What’s your own background in life and how did you get involved in this?
I’ve been playing basketball all my life. It’s never really stopped. It started in 2008 and we won that first competition. It was three of us against six guys that were playing together for a while. We decided to go to California where the 2009 games were. Once we went there, we kept going back. It was a lot of fun and you saw the same teams over again. You make friendships and people recognize you.
In Birmingham, someone walked up to me and said ‘Hey, I know you.’ I haven’t seen the guy in four years, but he remembered me. You kind of build up a friendship and plus you get to go to all these places. I’m going to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I would’ve never gone to Albuquerque just because. I’ve gone to Stanford, Cleveland, Houston, Minneapolis, and Birmingham.
Depending on where the event takes place, you get to see other events too. I took a picture of 14 women in Houston lining up for a 400-meter run. There were three age categories; 80-84, 85-89 and 90-94. Just seeing that and knowing there are people 30 years older than me still competing makes you want to keep going. I have a t-shirt that says “You don’t stop playing when you grow old. You grow old when you stop playing.”
In Virginia, we played a team that had to play both games in order to qualify. I told their captain that whoever scores first wins. One of the officials told us we had to play a half and we ended up beating them 19-0. On their roster was Pat Boone, the singer. They won the gold medal in 2013 for the age group they were in. He is probably the most famous person in the games. He may be in Albuquerque.
In the last games, they added the 85-and-up group. And that’s one of my goals. In 2029, we will all be 85 and over, including the youngest Steve. My goal is that we’re all well enough to play in the 85 and over group in 2029.
What’s your own game like? How tall are you? Are you a guard?
I’m about between 5’11 and six feet. I mostly shoot jumpers from 10-12 feet. Anywhere from the corners to the top of the key. Roger is a driver and the other guys are more one-handed jump shots or take shots around the same range as myself. I’m the shortest guy on the team. The other guys are around 6’2. Roger is supposed to be 6’4.
How did you fall in love with the sport?
I grew up in Brooklyn. Playing basketball was something we did all year around. I’ve been playing ever since I was a kid. I loved to watch it. When I went to high school, guys like Connie Hawkins, Roger Brown, and Bill Cunningham were playing. I always loved the game and going to Madison Square Garden. In high school, we use to go to basketball games for 50 cents and seat anywhere in the building.
I’m 31 and I still play pick up ball every week. What advice do you have for me so that I can keep playing into my 70s?
Keep in shape. Keep playing. Eat right. It’s not rocket science. Just keep doing it. There’s no magic formula. As long as you keep your body OK, you can keep doing it.