They learned to play differently, the kids in the neighborhood and the kids in the suburbs.
The kids in the hood earned their skills on the playground courts—combat zones where if you lost you didn’t keep playing. They learned by dribbling an old basketball that belonged to the court; it lived there year round and in all weather. The ball was covered with worn leather, except in the spot where the bladder poked through. The kids in the hood learned to adjust their dribble to that protuberance even as they learned their moves. It was tough going; the ball fought them even as they fought their opponents, and so they learned to be wary, to feel the ball at every bounce, to find the bulge and spin the ball so it would bounce true even as they juked and spun and fought their way to a bent, netless hoop. If they managed to make it to the basket at all they had to jump high, because some other kid who seemed to have sprouted wings blocked out the sun and was trying to deny their shot. If they avoided that flying obstacle they had to remember the lean of the rusted backboard, and had to bank it off the board just so to score. It was a hard way to learn to play the game, but they learned.
The kids in the ‘burbs learned to play in their driveways, shooting at a shiny backboard mounted above the garage door by their dads, and fitted with a new pristine white net every spring. Even if they lost at games of One-on-One or Horse they got to play again. After all it was their hoop, in their driveway. For them there would always be another game, always another opportunity. They didn’t have to dribble so much; there wasn’t much room to develop agile moves on their narrow strip of concrete. So they learned to find their best spots, learned to focus and shoot set shots, not needing to jump but to rise to their toes to gather momentum as they lined up their shot. They got to practice and practice, learning to shoot, often without interference. A typical greatest challenge was to make ten consecutive shots before mom called them in for dinner.
The kids from the neighborhood and the kids from the suburbs came together in junior high school. With the coach between them brown eyes glared, and blue and gray eyes glared back—pups new to each other and not sure yet if they would be friends or rip at each other’s throats.
They played together because they were told to. They played in silence, each determined to show up the other, to prove who was better. Still, the kid from the hood secretly admired that the kid from the ‘burbs could shoot from outside so accurately. The kid from the ‘burbs marveled at the quick moves of the kid from the hood.
They played in silence, mostly. But sometimes, when two kids from different worlds were far enough from the other players to not be heard, one would mutter, “Nice shot.” The other would mutter, “Thanks, yours too.”
They were from different worlds and had learned to play the game a different way, but sometimes they learned to play together.
© 2014 Christopher Bynum