Full-court press gets desired result: Basket stays aloft

SATURDAY'S HERO

June 26, 1993|By ROB KASPER

Last Saturday I put up another basketball goal. It was, I think, the seventh attempted hoop-raising of my career. Seven has turned out to be my lucky number. So far this basketball goal has not fallen down.

No. 6 fell down after about 30 minutes of use. A kid tossed in a long shot and Bam! The rim, the backboard and the support structure all slid down the pole that was supposed to be holding them up.

No one was hurt. But it was not a great moment in handymanism.

I had spent most of another Saturday afternoon trying to put that hoop up. What was supposed to have been a triumphal occasion turned into a comedy. When kids ran up to me hollering, "The basket fell down! The basket fell down!" it reminded me of Chicken Little. But while the chicken was wrong, the kids were right. The sky might not have been falling, but that basket was eating dirt.

There were plenty of kids around to do the hollering because this downwardly mobile goal was in the middle of the grassy playground of the swim club that my family belongs to. I volunteered to put a basketball goal there because my kids were hoopless. Basket No. 5, one of the goals I had put up in the alley behind my house, had been pulled down last winter. Basket No. 5 had lasted about a month.

My investigation showed that my next hoop-raising effort, No. 6, failed because the pole the basket was attached to was too skinny. It was 8 inches around, and was once used for tetherball. Even though it was thin I thought this tetherball pole had some of the essential qualities you look for in a basketball pole: It was metal. It was sunk in concrete. And it was standing in the open area of the playground. So I gave the pole a shot at changing sports.

In the early stages of the hoop-raising things went smoothly. Jordan Loran, a friend and fellow dad, had agreed to help. Unlike me, he seemed to be able to work despite being surrounded by curious kids asking "Whatta ya doing?" I went off to the hardware store to buy more bolts. When I returned, Jordan and his child-labor force had the basket ready to put on the pole.

When we got up on the stepladders we discovered the pole was too skinny. The U-bolts that were supposed to clamp down on the pole, holding the backboard to the pole, couldn't get a grip.

I went for the quick solution to the pole problem. I tried to fatten it up by jamming a piece of wood between it and the U-bolts. The U-bolts bit into the wood and held -- for about 30 minutes. Then, in the middle of a game, the wood gave way and the basket slid to earth.

I put the felled basket in storage. During the next week I pondered how to get the basket in the air, and keep it there. Every time I showed up on the playground to stare at the pole, boys and girls would ask me, "Are you going to put the basket up now?"

Some kids couldn't stand the wait and began shooting basketballs at a makeshift goal, a window-like opening in a piece of playground equipment. They shot at that thing for several days.

Eventually I hit upon a plan. I would cover the skinny pole with a fatter one, the hollow kind sold at sporting goods stores as part of a basketball goal kit. Then I would bolt the two poles together.

The next Saturday I was at the playground with the fatter pole, a sharp bit for a power drill and two new helpers, George N. Thomas and Lee Tawney. Not only did these two guys immediately grasp the fatter pole concept, they also figured out an efficient way to execute it. Tawney kept an eye on the big picture while Thomas made sure the holes he drilled through the two poles were aligned. I handed them the long bolts that ran through the holes. After the bolts were tightened, the two poles were one.

This time when the U-bolts were fastened to the fatter pole, they held. The basket stayed aloft. By the time I folded up the stepladders, some kids were already trying the basket out.

There were some complaints. A few of the kids said they had trouble dribbling the basketball on the grassy surface. I told them to stop dribbling and start passing. Some of the big kids objected to the basket being a mere 8 1/2 feet off the ground, 1 1/2 feet short of the regulation height of 10 feet. I told them that shooting at a shorter basket built confidence, especially among the little kids.

Once the novelty wears off and the shooting improves I might try to move the basket higher. That is, if the good Lord and the fat pole are willing -- and the hoop don't fall.

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