Eight seconds to go, game on the line. The ball is in the hands of Rob Bady, the spark plug and most accomplished of the players from the Evanston basketball team competing in the 2022 National Senior Games 50-to-55-year age category.
“I could have taken the shot, driven in for a layup or drawn in my man guarding me and passed out to a wide-open teammate,” said Bady after the fateful game.
Instead, he momentarily froze and passed the ball to a teammate, resulting in a tipped ball that eventually was recovered by their opponents, Luxeman Caveman, the final winners.
“I felt like I was back in eighth grade,” he said, recalling a similar situation from his middle school days.
Members of Slow & Steady, Evanston’s over-50 basketball team, lost by one point. “We were then sent to the losers bracket and had to win three games just to get back to medal round contention,” Bady said.
“The good news is we played four games and won all to work our way back into medal contention,” Bady said.
Levy Senior Center Foundation board support
The team members gathered at Curt’s Cafe on Central Street late last month to talk about their experience at the senior games in Florida, silver medals draped across their chests.
Slow & Steady was one of five teams representing Illinois – four of which were from Evanston, including three women’s teams.
The Levy Senior Center Foundation board approved Bady’s request for the Foundation to pay the $575 entry fee specifically for each of the women’s teams. “Since I am a board member,” Bady said, “I wanted others outside the board, especially our women’s teams, to feel supported.”
As a precursor to the national games, the Foundation and the City of Evanston sponsored its own “Hoops for the Ages” tournament for older players on April 9, featuring 3-on-3 women’s and men’s competitions. Competition took place on the courts at the Levy Senior Center and the Robert Crown Center.
The 5-foot-9 Bady, a senior sales executive for the Universal Gaming Group, was an all-area player at Taft High School in 1987 and then a four-year starter at North Park University. He was the leader and the driving force behind this senior team coming together, his team colleagues said.
Several of the other fellow Sunday hoopsters, included 6-foot-3 Steve Cline, Vice President of Communications at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association; and Jeff Danielsen, Relationship Manager at BMO Harris Bank and the team’s “big man” at just under 6-foot-5.
They were joined by 6-foot-1 Ted Hardin, a documentary filmmaker and professor of film at Columbia College Chicago; 6-foot Ray Bady (Rob’s brother), who is a senior pastor at Valley Kingdom Ministries International in Oak Forest.
Ray Bady, in turn, brought in 6-foot-2 Brian Courtney Wilson, a three-time Grammy-nominated gospel singer. (“We didn’t even know about” that, said Rob Bady.) “And people were walking up to him taking pictures, and I’m like, ‘What are you doing? We’re playing basketball here.’”
The team qualified for the senior games in a tournament at the Randall Oaks Recreation Center in West Dundee in October 2021.
Cline said of the national tournament: “We went down there on a Wednesday and were done Sunday night. It was so intense. We played nine games in four days. I mean, I’m amazed I came out of that still walking. It really brought us together and brought out the best of us. It was one of the best experiences of my entire life, and I’ve been playing since I was a teenager.”
Up against the Luxeman Caveman
The team played a total of four pool games and then a double elimination playoff tournament.
In the May 22 title game they met the Luxeman Caveman team from Cleveland, whose uniforms looked professional – names stitched on the back – and a frontline of two 6-6 centers.
“I still have trouble breathing from hits to the ribs,” said Danielsen, going over the game at Curt’s.
Up by two at the half, the Evanston team ran out of gas at the end, losing by six points.
“We gave everything that we had, and we left it all on the floor and just came up short,” said Rob Bady, player, coach and floor manager. “But we were glad to be in medal competition.”
At the end of the game, Bady noted, the two teams took a photograph together. “Battle scars were all there, but we were all respectful of just the moment,” he said “And the moment is we’re playing at this age and didn’t get hurt, and we really played at a high level.”
Several team members talked about the benefits of the competition that went beyond the medals. Being part of the games, and with something like 15,000 older athletes coming together to compete in a wide range of sports, Bady said he took away a new perspective.
“Your kids go, ‘Oh, you’re old.’ But I’m like, ‘There’s this whole world out there that exists.’ Tom Brady [the 44-year-old Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay quarterback] is out there with TV 12 [a training program on how to age well]. We should be championing the cause of aging and trying to make it a thing to look forward to.”
Danielsen brought back an insight to share with his son, who is experiencing the ups and downs of the youth sports world, where the focus, he said, is making the high school team and then perhaps winning a college scholarship.
“I’m like, ‘Look at me,’ ” he said. “This is not about making the high school team. Yeah, that’s great – fans, people cheering for you. This is about spending decades out there playing, developing friendships and having fun and being healthy.”