It’s all coming back to me now. The leathery knobs and the black stripes felt, somehow, right in my hand. It didn’t at first. At first it felt like a rough brick and not at all round in my hands. At first when I bounced the basketball it felt foreign and strange, I had to look down to make sure it was bouncing right and high enough to bounce again. The rim seemed like a hundred miles away. But let me back up a bit.
I grew up on a farm in Indiana with older brothers and most of us lived and breathed sports, especially basketball. If you have seen the movie Hosiers you have seen my back yard. We played basketball all year round and many times we had to scrap the snow off the court before we could play, the slush would stick to the ball and our ungloved hands would ache from the cold. I remember a hoop specially built by my dad out of 4x4s. I remember a hoop attached to the outside of the barn. I remember a hoop attached to a telephone pole in the driveway, upstairs in the hayloft of the barn, in the cattle yard with the cow pies, in the equipment shed, the tool shed, and even on a tree. Nerf basketball hoops showed up hanging on the doors of rooms in the house, the trim above walkways, above the TV, and out in the screened porch. We had a basketball table game with Ping-Pong balls launched to the hoop on a spring-loaded flipper. Even when there was no hoop or ball we would play in our imaginations and our underwear leaping to dunk the ball on the trim over the doorway. I carried a basketball to school, in the bus with me and sometimes even to classes. I carried a basketball to friend’s house just in case. My mom learned to tape broken glasses and broken fingers that came from basketball. I had the feel of a basketball.
As we remodeled our back yard it was my wife who insisted on a basketball hoop. Reluctantly, since my kids are out of the house now, I cemented the pole and hung the backboard and rim. I bought a new basketball and felt the brick it became in my hands. I shot a few times and missed even the backboard, the brick rolled in the grass behind. I turned on the lights on the court last night after a few weeks of bricks and noticed that I was dribbling without looking; my hands had gotten the feel back. I stood at the line and my hands traced the leathery knobs and black lines, I place my fingers where my 7th grade coach told me to place them and watched the ball spin backwards on its way to the hoop. The rim felt closer and the ball felt comfortable. I smiled as the memories of brothers, teammates, coaches, and screaming fans came back to me. I forgot my six knee surgeries and my extra 70 pounds as the ball lightly touched the back of the rim, went through, and bounced strait back to me. The feel.