'Laundry hoop' offers boys a clean shot at basketball

SATURDAY'S HERO

January 30, 1993|By ROB KASPER

Recently I put a makeshift basketball goal up in the alley behind our house.

It was not the hoop of my dreams. This one had a skinny, slanting rim. The backboard of pressed fiberboard didn't offer much resistance when I put two screws through it to fasten it to a wood pole.

It was, after all, an indoor hoop, pressed into outdoor duty. It was a goal designed with both Dr. James Naismith, who invented the game of basketball, and kids, who invented dirty laundry, in mind. This hoop was supposed to sit over a laundry basket and entice kids to shoot their wadded-up clothes into the basket. It never got much use in our house as a laundry aid.

At first it was on a door near the family room. There on winter afternoons, the kids fired a variety of missiles -- wadded-up newspaper, small foam basketballs, even a plastic football -- at it. But never any dirty laundry.

Sometime in the summer the "laundry hoop" moved to the backyard, where it was attached to a back porch railing. It was only about 6 feet off the ground, a tempting height for the gang of 11-year-old "dunkers" and their little brothers who regularly attacked it. One day they knocked the goal down, pulling the rim from its feeble moorings.

The crippled goal sat in the basement until about a month ago. Then, armed with a bag of thick nuts and bolts and a lifelong belief in the societal benefits of shooting hoops, I took it to the alley.

I grew up with a hoop in my backyard. It was a homemade job. The backboard and rim came from the sporting goods store, but the pole that held it up came from old garage door timbers that my dad, with some help from his sons, had bolted together and sunk in concrete.

The court was dirt.

My brothers and I played on it in all seasons. When it snowed, we shoveled the court off, sometimes before we had cleared the front walks. When it thawed, and frozen dirt turned to squashy mud, we quickly learned the value of passing, not dribbling, the ball.

But that was years ago in the backyard of a Midwestern town. This hoop was going up in the alley of a big city, and I was cautious.

If the alley hoop looked too appealing it might attract big kids. These were the kids who used to play basketball in the nearby school yard until, one day, the goal was summarily taken down. Having been a big kid once, I knew they wouldn't have much use for fledgling players, the very kids I wanted to use this hoop.

The laundry hoop would be too small, too wobbly, too homey to tempt the talents of older kids. On one level I knew my kids would improve by playing kids bigger and better than they are. But I wanted them to make a few solitary baskets first.

I placed the stepladder next to the pole and started climbing. I carried the goal up the ladder and dropped the end of a piece of string to my son, who was standing at the bottom of the ladder. The string was exactly 10 feet long, the official height of a goal.

While my son held one end of the string on the ground, I held the other at the rim. I lifted the goal until the string was tight, then fastened the goal to the pole.

Unfortunately the ground below the basket was not level. That meant if you were standing directly in front of the basket, the rim would be 10 feet above you. But if you were a few steps to the right, the rim was 10 feet 2 inches away. But on the left side, the rim was a mere 9 feet 10 inches away.

Some might call this sloppy workmanship. I call it home-court advantage.

The hoop has been in the alley for several weeks now. Despite my fears, no trash trucks have backed into it. No midnight marauders have tried to steal it. And there have been no close calls with cars.

However, once the kids began playing in Saturday basketball leagues with level floors and sturdy baskets, complaints have started to be voiced about the alley basket's weak points.

There is mounting pressure for me to put up a "real" basket. There is little room in the backyard of our rowhouse for a regulation basketball goal. We would have to get one of those portable basketball goals and wheel it into the middle of the parking pad, pushing the cars into the street.

And that is not going to happen. At least not unless this big kid gets some guaranteed court time.

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