Steve Duty knows the day will come when he can’t play basketball. His knees or his ankles, maybe a shoulder, will be injured or perhaps his health will deteriorate. Maybe there will come a day when he just doesn’t like basketball anymore.
Duty, 62, doesn’t see that day happening any time soon.
He admits that his knees ache on the drive home after rec league games and he often packs them in ice. But a little stiffness and pain hasn’t stopped him yet.
Duty still plays competitively two or three nights a week in various leagues and he recently helped the Wazee Warriors win a National Senior Games Association basketball championship in Birmingham, Ala. The Warriors were among 10,000 seniors who played in the multisport biennial games.
They played in the 60-to-64 division and dominated the B-division bracket. The Bedford County (Tenn.) Eagles, who lost to the Warriors 74-56 earlier in the tournament, were supposed to play them again in the finals, but forfeited.
“I can’t believe it,” said Duty, who operates Duty Tire in Garner. “You travel all the way to the national tournament, reach the finals and then forfeit? We had beaten them pretty badly and it was a double-elimination so that they would have had to beat us twice to win the title, but forfeit? If it was me, I’d just want to play basketball.”
Duty, who lives in Raleigh, has played just about his whole life. He played at Millbrook High, Kings College in Raleigh and at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla.. Long after most of his peers have abandoned the game, he relishes it.
He plays fullcourt games in over-40 leagues in Garner, Cary and Raleigh and joins the Warriors, a team made up of players from all around the Triangle, in the 60-to-64 tournaments where they play halfcourt, three-on-three games.
Duty has adapted his game through the years. Once he was a 6-foot-3 forward at Millbrook High. Now, he, like most of the Wazee, is a shooter.
The team was assembled by Wallace Lewis, a former Enloe High standout, with shooting in mind.
“Everybody can shoot. That’s who we are – a bunch of shooters,” said Lewis, who played his college basketball at Radford University.
The half-court games are fast-paced and the Warriors have quick triggers. The official never touches the ball except on fouls. As soon as a team gains possession, the ball is moved quickly to beyond the key. One pass and often the shot is in the air.
The games are played with a 15-minute running clock in each half, but the Warriors averaged 69.9 points in their seven national tournament games.
The clock doesn’t stop for free throws until the final two minutes of each half. Before the final two minutes, the shooting team shoots its free throws and keeps possession.
“They discourage fouling,” Duty said. “You can bang around some, but don’t hit the shooter. If you foul, a team can score a lot of points without you ever touching the ball.”
Duty, the 6-foot-3 Lewis, 64; 6-3 Lamar Marshall, 61; 6-0 Frank Schmitt, 60; and 6-0 J.C. Daniels, 62; won their fourth straight North Carolina title in the past five years to qualify for the nationals. The Warriors added 6-8 Kinney Baughman, 61; 6-5 Greg Rekuc, 60; and 6-0 Will Warlick, 60; for the nationals.
“The big thing we do is create mismatches,” Lewis said. “If they have a big guy, he is going to have to come outside and guard a shooter. If they don’t play a big man, then we are going to try to find something else.”
Lewis played in the adult leagues for fun for years, but noticed his clubs were almost as good as the teams that were dominating the state. He figured with some work he could assemble an all-star team capable of contending in the state and the nation.
“The big thing at this point is to stay healthy,” Lewis said. “When you get hurt, you don’t heal as quickly as you used to. We all have our aches and pains and sometimes the mind wants to do what the body can’t do anymore.”
The Warriors were national runners-up in their division in the 2013 National Senior Games in Cleveland, Ohio, and finished sixth in the 2015 games in Memphis and won the gold medal in Birmingham.
But this year could have been just a little bit better.
Pool play determined which bracket the teams would compete in. The Warriors finished 2-2 in pool play with losses to the Arkansas Travelers, 68-64, and the Jersey Boys, 62-60. Arkansas was runner-up in the A division, losing to the Georgia Boys, 62-60 in the finals. New Jersey finished third.
“We lost two games that we should have won,” Duty said. “I think we could have won the A division. The games would have been tougher (the Warriors’ closest game in the B division was 29 points), but we could have won the other division.
“But we won a national title so we have no complaint.”