( A warning to younger generations: This is one of those stories akin to how, in our day, we walked three miles to school. In the snow. Without a coat.)
This is a story about playground basketball. Pickup hoops. Outdoor ball. Perhaps the purest form of the sport, and one that has been an on-again, off-again – but mostly on-again – passion for closing in on a half-century.
But, alas, the game is changing. Indeed, the signs are that the outdoor game is not only morphing – it could be dying.
The anecdotal evidence from a spring and early summer of hoops on the pavement:
-- There are fewer players.
-- Teenagers and young adults prefer to play half-court basketball, not full-court. Where’s the exercise in half-court?
-- It takes more effort than it does to reach a Middle East peace accord to corral enough people to commit to play, to choose teams and then to begin the game. That’s wasted court time.
-- Between games, it takes 15 minutes to round up the winning team (which controls the court) and settle on an opposing team before action resumes. More wasted court time.
-- Players will quit after their team wins the game, done for the day. That is sacrilegious, because once you earn the court, you never have to give it up until you lose.
-- Players will even walk way in the middle of a game. That, my friends, is heresy, probably still a misdemeanor in big cities where the game evolved and flourished.
You can blame the usual whipping boys for the sport’s relegated state: High-tech devices and video games. The Internet and social media. Instant gratification.
Not to mention a shrinking attention span. Which probably is why the outdoor game won’t be saved.
If only kids could focus long enough to read a book about the lore of playground basketball, they could appreciate what they have. (One example is “The City Game” by the late Pete Axthelm.)
Perhaps only then will these would-be modern-day playground hoopers revel in what they have: A venue, the ability and stamina to play this beautiful game – and, for now, enough other people to get it on, full-court.