By Gary Lloyd
I was leaving the house one night recently, headed to Publix for at least the third time that week, when I saw it.
Resting on a sewer top in my neighborhood was a red, white and blue basketball, the type that Julius Erving dominated with in the American Basketball Association before that league merged with the NBA in 1976.
Just a glimpse of a basketball in the dark reminds me of summers past. It’s what we did most summers growing up. I remember playing 21 with neighborhood buddies in my driveway. My next-door neighbor and I practiced almost daily in our driveways, me shooting three-pointers and him throwing down slam dunks. We only broke a garage door window once.
We jogged across Queenstown Road to the Hidden Trace neighborhood, dribbling basketballs. We had slam dunk contests on old hoops we lowered with the help of a broom handle. I remember the burn of June pavement on my wrist and forearm from a failed one-handed jam. Every Christmas, I unwrapped a new Wilson or Spalding basketball to replace the year-old one that I had dribbled into shreds of leather. Those basketballs experienced more weather than Columbia boots. They became waterlogged during April showers, almost melted into the asphalt in June and July, were stained yellow by August pollen, and lost their leathery grip in the fall months.
Those were the days.
I don’t see basketballs outside much anymore. I see an electric mini-motorcycle blazing down the street and something that the youths tell me is a Segway self-balancing scooter. Those kids aren’t dribbling or running or even walking, but at least they’re outside, I guess.
It seems so many kids spend their days inside nowadays, even on a cloudless summer day. They crush candy on iPads, record silly videos on something called TikTok, and, if they are playing basketball, are doing so in a climate-controlled gymnasium.
You’ll read those last couple paragraphs and call me a curmudgeon, and that’s fine. I do live a lot in the past, because, well, I like history and I miss the way many things used to be. I miss the relentless search for a specific Levi’s size in Century Plaza. I miss printing directions to Driver Stadium in Gardendale off MapQuest. I miss a CD case the size of carry-on luggage holding burnt CDs under the driver’s seat. I miss pickup basketball games on the blacktop at what is now Cahaba Elementary School.
But I’ll try to leave you with a glimmer of hopefulness for my outdoor outlook, lest you liken me to Mr. Wilson from “Dennis the Menace” or Walt from “Gran Torino.”
About 24 hours after seeing that ABA basketball on the sewer top, I was driving by again, my destination I don’t recall. I was probably headed to Publix again for Mucinex, soft-baked oatmeal raisin cookies and DiGiorno pizza. You know, the essentials. Anyway, I saw that basketball again, and it was not in the same spot as the night before.
Some kid, or hopefully some kids, had played with it again.
Gary Lloyd is the author of six books and is a contributing writer to the Cahaba Sun.