A few weeks ago, I wrote about the memorable “snow wars” we’d enjoy as kids during the 70’s–backyard football games played on the most wintery of days. Thinking back, we’d adjust our sports competitions/”pick-up” games in those days to jive with the pros’ schedule; once the Super Bowl was completed, it was time to put pigskin thoughts away and turn our attention to hoops. Our venue would then change from my neighbor Tom’s backyard to the driveway in front of his house; the “court”–very much like our “stadium”–was anything but flat. In fact, it was an act of bravery every time someone put up a shot without having a rebounder underneath the rim in order to prevent a missed attempt from rolling down into Mr. Morris’ yard across the street. On those days when we all had our own basketballs while practicing, no one was immune from having to do some major retrieving down on the Morris property. To this day, I believe it made us concentrate more and become better shooters.
I remember the hoop/rim at Tom’s house being maybe 9 1/2 feet off the ground (every time I’d step inside a gym and gaze at a regulation-sized hoop, I’d notice the obvious difference). A cemented steel pole held an oversized, charcoal-colored, wooden backboard–enabling us to constantly practice our bank shots. Yeah, I often wonder how the heck that backboard was immune to splintering with all those shots caroming off it–yes, YEARS-worth. And the rim was strong, too, as I never remembering Tom or his Dad having to tighten the rusted bolts that held it in place (I guess it helped that most of us were still vertically-challenged and not yet tall enough to hang on it). But what I’ll always remember about our beloved court was the CHAIN NET attached to the rim. I had never seen one before that time; I don’t recall that type of net even being SOLD in stores at the time and always wondered how Tom (or maybe his Dad) came into possession of one. What an unmistakable sound it made when a ball passed through it; unlike its nylon counterpart that would render a soothing “swish,” the chains would always emit a loud “KUH-WISH” after a successful shot–and you could hear it throughout the neighborhood. In fact, the sound would resonate to the point where no phone calls had to be made before organizing a pick-up game and/or shoot-around; the first few KUH-WISH sounds–usually made by Tom or his younger brother Steve–would be easily heard by all of our usual neighborhood participants and serve as an invitation to join in. I remember us shooting for HOURS at a time until it got dark–seeing who could cause the net to make the loudest noise; the farther away one was successful with a shot, the louder the KUH-WISH. The more we practiced shooting, the better we became–to the point where a steady stream of KUH-WISHES would cause non-basketball-playing and/or bike-riding kids passing by on Bruns Road to stop and marvel at the unique noise. Funny, the chain net never seemed to get tangled/become unhinged despite all the “dancing” it did. It rusted a bit after a few years, but that familiar sound never changed. KUH-WISH, KUH-WISH, KUH-WISH–there was no better sound in the world.
I recall the daily pick-up games being so enjoyable and competitive while being contested on the smooth, slanted driveway; it was usually the same match-up as our football “wars”: Jimmy and I vs. Joe and Tom. Sometimes Steve would play and be told to be a part of our team strictly because we were younger and were assumed to need an extra player. However, I don’t think our opponents realized that Jimmy and I–on days when our usual, geometrically-challenged court was off-limits–would practice at Jimmy’s house (about 50 yards away) for hours, too, honing our shooting skills. Although Jimmy’s “court” was flat and more visually appealing, it was more congested, too–due to the surrounding landscape/property layout at his house. But a perfect place to practice, for sure, and I believe the countless hours spent there playing “H-O-R-S-E” or “Around The World” gave us the skills and confidence needed to beat the older guys–even on a slanted surface. I think Jimmy and I knew from the very beginning that we’d never out-muscle the older guys; shooting the lights out would be our strategy–and it worked. Yeah, it was so much fun–especially when Jimmy and I could win games without placing a major emphasis on rebounding. And I recall Joe often doing his Pete Maravich imitation–taking long jump shots and then purposely falling on the pavement to make it look like he was fouled. Ah, it was magical in its hilarity.
Finally, I remember, when it snowed, all of us wanting to pitch in and shovel Tom’s driveway even before doing our own–clearing the way for another pick-up game to be played. Yeah, as long as there was no ice underneath–and we could move freely without slipping–there was basketball to be played. And now that I think of it, the soft, packed snow covering the out of bounds area–or even at the end of Tom’s driveway–actually helped stopped some errant balls from traveling down that dreaded grade. Snow boots slowed us down a bit–but not as much as one might surmise. Funny, we wore knit caps and heavy jackets when we played, but seldom donned gloves–which we discovered could negatively affect the “shooter’s touch.” Somehow, my hands never seemed cold, either; I can only assume that hearing the desired KUH-WISH over and over made me forget about any bothersome chill I may have been experiencing.
Recently, I was in the sporting goods section at Wal-Mart after the holidays and came across a chain net for sale among the basketball items; yes, they DO sell them now. I stopped and stared at it for awhile as a smile graced my countenance and a warm feeling engulfed me. Then it all came back to me: KUH-WISH, KUH-WISH, KUH-WISH. Like riding a bike or tying a shoe, I guess certain habits–and memories–are bound to last a lifetime.