When I was a boy, I always wanted to fly, and going to the place of painted lines and vertical goals allowed me to experience that feeling of prolonged hangtime called freedom. Whether the twilight summer nights, or the stillness of a cool crisp morning, the oasis around the corner never disappeared from me. As a socially awkward child, I would lay my head down on my ball, listening to the sounds of crickets, night dreaming into the dark void within the desert of my thoughts.
After school, everyone wanted to hang out and party, but I went to my happy place. I sacrificed social events for the sweat in my body and muscle aches involving full-court scrimmages with people or shooting around with the ghosts of the courts past. I’ve experienced the best and the worst of people with the roles they play in the world. I would never trade the moments I could have shared with others for the bitter cold biting at my skin or the summer heat forcing me to learn the value of every breath we take. Those harsh conditions at the basketball courts made me feel alive.
Each day I couldn’t decide whether to use the free throw line to make the net dance to the rhythm my wrist snapped or use that line as a takeoff point to try to be like MJ. The more I exercised my emotions, the more I felt my feet leave this world. However, it was never about being able to do the gravity-defying feats that I would watch on the internet all day before going to the park; it was about igniting the pure creativity and imagination to broadcast from the eyes of a child.
Endless possibilities with an orange rock that has a special glow, emulating the excitement of my heart as I tap into the pulse of the playground. That satisfying feeling of hitting a fade away over the defender, or out rebonding someone twice my size, these are the stories of myth and legend. The Blacktop is one of the few places that break down the political barriers of skin color and religion, reuniting how we should treat each other through teamwork and camaraderie. The sounds of sneakers screeching on the pavement or squeaking on the hardwood represent the progress of society.
When I was a boy, I wanted to learn to fly, so I would pop my CD into my Walkman and feel the leather from the ball seep into the hair follicles on my fingers, hugging my fingerprints that reveal my identity for the love of this game. The scars on my ball and the scars on my hands share in common the uncommon tales of victories and losses. All we have are our stories to pass down through either chest or bounce passes. Perhaps alley-oops, watching what other ballers will share with their descendants as precious memories.
Some heroes dwell between the glossy covers of comic books; mine were on ESPN. Not all heroes wear capes; sometimes, they sport Nikes. Running faster than a speeding bullet and leaping over tall buildings in a single bound for me was the same as step back three-pointers with a hand in the face or dunking on someone with authority. A skinny kid who felt superior, not because he was the most athletically gifted or stronger but because the essence of the craft allowed me to be a better version of myself everyday.
When the ball goes through the ring, nothing earth-shattering takes place. The world goes on the same as it did a few moments ago. There are still many tragedies that are playing their game, but something deeper is happening within a person that moves mountains. Ideas are birthed, health goals are achieved, someone is one drill away from making their team, and therapeutic healing from life’s hardships is tended to.
A hooper’s journey never ends for as long as the child-like excitement burns with awe and wonder for the game. From the fierce competition to the seldom nights to the friendships gained our spirit is replenished with this beautiful artwork of explosive athleticism and soft touch. Although I never played in the NBA, I will always appreciate the burst of lights that fire off whenever I return to my safe place. When I was a little boy, I wanted to learn how to fly, and finally, I did. Happiness cradled the rock and put to sleep the nightmare of not fitting into this world to dream awake off the highs of touching the sky and hearing the net splash.
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