Blog Annoucement/Mysterious Basketball
In an effort to revive the “creative” side of my writing career (and I use the term creative loosely) I’ve decided to start including stories from my college days, as well as some new ones that I will hopefully come up with. This story I wrote in the fall of 2008 for a creative non-fiction class.
It’s just a basketball, and a haggard looking one at that. It has alternating blue and white patches around the outside. There’s a lump on one side of it that looks like a tumor. Once filled with tiny bumps covering its surface, it is now as smooth as a pebble as a result of hours of being pounded into the hard pavement. The lack of texture coupled with the tumor make dribbling the ball virtually impossible. These days it exists solely for nostalgic purposes.
Acquired in fifth grade after an afternoon trip to KB Toys, the purchase of the basketball coincided with the construction of a hoop in the driveway of the Cusick household. I was a recreational basketball player at the time, meaning that, while I took part in a variety of leagues at school, I was by no means good. My friends, for the most part, were excellent. My lack of skill at the game was becoming, to my fifth grade mind, a social roadblock.
The origins of the ball are vague. Frankly, I don’t know where the hell it came from, what company manufactured it, or if any others of its kind exist. Found amongst a hodgepodge of hockey pucks, tennis balls, and waffle ball bats in a rack at the store, it was packaged in a clear plastic bag. Other than the words “Inflate 7-9 Ounces” ominously typed in black, no other information was provided.
I’m unsure as to what attracted me to this particular ball. Perhaps it was the sense of mystery surrounding the ball. Its anonymity may have piqued my curiosity; I thought that buying it would lead to the discovery of its secrets. On the other hand, it may have just been the first ball I saw. I simply don’t know at this point.
I had to inflate it myself, which proved to be an arduous task. My only tool in this endeavor was a rather primitive hand-held pump that looked as if it had been designed by Dr. James Naismith himself. The device took a considerable amount of strength and perseverance to operate, especially for a scrawny twelve-year old. After a hard twenty minutes of heroically pumping the ball to inflation, it was ready for action. As it lay there in all of its royal blue and white glory, I had the sense that this spherical object would become a constant companion to me in the coming months.
Initially the ball was awkward to handle. Partly due to my lack of skill, partly due to the fact that there was a little too much air in it, my ability to effectively handle the ball was limited. The novelty of what I was doing may also have played a role. There’s a sense of trepidation when you’re playing with a new basketball; you want to treat it gently. It’s comparable to buying a pair of white sneakers. That first time you wear them out, you’re so vigilant about avoiding dirt and mud that you find yourself wishing you had gone with your old pair.
My shooting and dribbling at that point in time were mediocre at best. I was a good defender and a decent passer, but those skills were a non factor since I was practicing alone. I was determined to improve in these areas, if only so to not embarrass myself by throwing up an air ball from the foul line or dribbling the ball off my foot once sixth grade travel tryouts rolled around.
I usually practiced for about an hour and a half a day. At the time I had no idea if I was actually getting better, but I knew if I didn’t make the team it wouldn’t be for lack of effort. By August, excessive overuse led to the balls descent into misshapenness. In September it took up a place of honor amongst the mishmash of cleats, golf clubs, and other sports equipment lining the far wall of my garage. That fall I started every game for my travel team, going from a laughingstock to reliable player. Though the ball was going into an early retirement, I was only beginning my basketball journey.
Every time I stumble upon it while vainly searching my garage for a wiffle ball, I get a sharp shot of nostalgia. I usually stop and pick it up. I might dribble it a couple of times or take a few shots if I’m feeling adventurous. For a minute, I think back to the prime of the ball. Those long summer days practicing under the scorching sun, becoming a player, are still clear to me. I’ll smile, gently place the ball back where it belongs, and then go back to my search. I know it will still be there.