Carl Colbert has a good read on basketball. He describes the sport as “Poetry in motion.” And, he’s not someone to argue with on that point.

As a child growing up in New York City, he watched NBA legends in Harlem’s Rucker Park, the mecca for streetball.

“I was one of those kids who used to sit on the fence or sit in the trees, and watch Pee Wee Kirkland, Joe Hammond, Nate Archibald, Dr. J and Connie Hawkins,” Colbert said. “Basketball was life.”

Now 59 years old, basketball still is life. The Ft. Lauderdale, Florida resident plays competitively about four days per week.

Sure, he loves the sport, but his motivation for playing is to remain sober. How’s it working? Well, he’s been drug and alcohol-free for 27 years and counting.

Carl Colbert taking a little break from basketball. Photo c/o Carl Colbert

Playing a helpful role in that is FIMBA, which stands for Federation for International Masters Basketball Association, a 26-year-old global, non-profit that hosts age appropriate hoops tournaments for men who are 35-and-older, and for women who are 30-and-older.

It allows Colbert to travel internationally and play elite-level masters ball in what the International Olympic Committee calls, “the best senior sports federation in the world.”

Colbert never played professionally, or in college for that matter, but he’s going up against the likes of others his age who have.

“There are no barriers. People don’t care what color you are, how big you are, whether or not you played in college, how much money you make, where you’re from or what religion you follow,” explained Jim Sweeney, volunteer head of the U.S. division of FIMBA. “If you have a competitive drive inside, you get to play against the some of the best.”

Basketball as a lifetime sport? You bet.

“When people think about older people playing sports, they think about tennis, golf and swimming,” Colbert said. “People don’t think about older generations playing fast and physical team sports.”

Hardwood to Hard Drugs

To say Colbert loved the game as a child is understatement. If a court wasn’t available, he would go find a bicycle rim, remove all the spokes and figure out a way to attach it to a building so he could shoot.

He’ll tell you he wasn’t a very good player, but the sport helped channel his hyper-activity. So, he played through high school. He never wanted to play in the NBA, but his dream was to coach at a Division I school.

He attended Slippery Rock University in western Pennsylvania, where he studied education. However, during his time there, he started experimenting with marijuana and alcohol. Plagued by a strong family history of substance abuse, drinking and smoking weed led to popping pills, which then led to developing a dangerous crack habit.

Carl Colbert shooting a free throw. Photo c/o Carl Colbert

Upon graduating from college, he took a position as a high school teacher in Florida, where he also coached football, basketball and track. He was living his dream, but also overwhelmed by addiction.

His wife, who was pregnant with their second child at the time, eventually moved back to Pennsylvania to stay with her family.

“I spiraled down after that,” Colbert said. “I was eating out dumpsters and eventually got arrested.”

In fact, Colbert was arrested by a familiar face.

“The high school I was working at, they were having a basketball tournament as a fundraiser. It was faculty and staff against the local police department,” he said. “I played in it that Friday night. The guy who was guarding me, we were going at it. It was a great game. About a week later, I got arrested at my house, and guess who was the uniformed officer at my door? That’s right. The guy who was guarding me.”

Reigniting the Flame

Colbert lost his job and had to go to jail for three months. He entered a drug rehab program while there, which is where he also picked up a basketball again for the first time in years.

After his stint behind bars, he lived in a halfway house for a year, where he attended 12-step recovery meetings.

“There was a whole group of us in recovery and basketball is what we did,” he said. “We went to meetings and played basketball almost every day. That helped keep me clean, and then once I got my family back, I stopped playing for a really long time because I was busy with my kids and working.”

About 10 years ago, Colbert was struggling as he was going through a divorce, and a friend reminded him of his love for basketball. This friend signed him up for a league for those 40-and- older.

Carl Colbert playing some tough ‘D.’ Photo c/o Carl Colbert

“That’s how I started playing basketball again,” he said.

The 6’3″ self-described “good defensive player with a nose for the ball” started playing in local tournaments and then in national competitions, which is where he met Jim Sweeney from FIMBA five years ago.

“Last summer, I got a call from Jim and he opened the door for me to go to Serbia to play,” Colbert said. “I went and it was like being on my wildest dream. I met people from all over the world that have a love and a passion for this game like I do.”

Basketball Breaks Down Barriers

Like Colbert, Jim Sweeney, 59, knows a thing or two about basketball. He played at Boston College, and in addition to being one of 45 individual country heads for FIMBA, he’s also an international board member who has played in FIMBA hosted tournaments in Brazil, Costa Rica, Greece, Italy, Czech Republic, Serbia, Croatia and at the ESPN Sports Complex in Orlando, FL.

His love for playing the game at a high level is palpable. His desire to one day be 80 and still playing full-court FIMBA basketball is as strong as it gets.

Making the wheels of this federation turn are the players themselves. Their travel is self-funded, and most plan their vacation time around tournament dates.

“There’s a guy who is a former principal in the Detroit school system, and he budgets $20,000 a year to travel to all these things, because they’re so much fun,” Sweeney said. “And he’s about 67 years old.”

Jim Sweeney driving left. Photo c/o Jim Sweeney

So, what is the big draw to FIMBA? Sure, it’s the competition itself, but it’s also the experiences off the court which include meeting new people, traveling to foreign lands and celebrating the human spirit.

Before major FIMBA tournaments, there’s a parade at the opening ceremony, where players walk behind their respective flags, much like in the Olympic Games.

“Basketball is unique in that it cuts across all social, economic and racial lines. No matter whether you grew up in the inner city, or if you grew up in the farmlands of Indiana, or the countryside of Italy, there’s a basketball court there,” Colbert said. “The sport really unifies everyone.”

In that, Colbert means politics, religion and world issues tend to take a backseat when humans meet face-to-face. And, FIMBA is a shining example, according to Sweeney.

“A few years ago, it was a week after Russia invaded Ukraine and my wife and I were in Zadar, Croatia sitting in the pool,” Sweeney said. “The girls from Ukraine were splashing around the pool with the girls from Russia, yet their countries were supposedly at war. Basketball, like all sports, breaks down barriers.”

A Lifetime Sport

As for Colbert, he’s working as a technician at a drug and alcohol treatment center, where he monitors and transports clients. To continue on the sober path, he attends recovery meetings on a regular basis in addition to playing ball.

“No matter where I travel to go play basketball, I always make sure I go catch a meeting when I’m there,” he said.

Photo c/o Jim Sweeney

More basketball is on Colbert’s agenda. However, he will be sidelined for a few months due to upcoming back surgery. But, don’t think he won’t be back on the hardwood as soon as possible. After all, he came back after he had testicular cancer, a hip replacement and a detached retina in one eye.

“A lot of my friends ask, ‘When are you going to give this up?’ I’m like ‘Why? Why would I give something up I love doing?'”

And that’s a response senior ball players from FIMBA can relate to.

“You can’t put a price tag on the emotional and psychological advantage that you get when you prepare for something and you’ve done your best, no matter your age” Sweeney said. “As long as you’ve put everything into it and still had a good time, you’ve accomplished something.”

And that is “Poetry in motion.”