Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Random Life–Installment Two: Rim-Hanging at Basketball's Mecca!

Note: The following blog is the latest installment of my mini-series (a 'sub-blog' if you will) of the totally random events that happen in my life. This one goes back to the early 1990's when a good friend and I went on a six-week cross-country excursion that was a life experience that changed both our understanding of this great country.

Ever had an impromptu, self-imposed dunk contest at the Basketball Hall of Fame while the building was empty? I have!

It was the summer of 1993 (cue Wayne and Garth doing there whole "doodly-doo, doodly-doo" memory bit) and a good friend of mine had decided he had enough of the relentless New England winters and that it was time to move back to his home in sunny Calabasis, California. I was envious. Mike was (and still is!) a very good friend. As big a basketball fan as I am (which is how we met – playing for opposing schools in intercollegiate hoops) and an all-around kindred spirit. Hearing that he was moving was a real downer. Then, Mike made a suggestion that changed our lives forever. "Dude, we should get a car and drive cross country!'

At first I thought it was a pipe-dream. I mean, who just picks up and drives cross country? No one does that anymore, right? Where would we get a car? How much for food and gas? I couldn't go anyway, I had a roommate, a full-time job, etc. It just wouldn't work.

Then, I got laid off. With a fat severance package. Enough cash for the rest of the year and no sense of urgency about finding a new job. Maybe this was a sign?

Then, after about a month of kicking it around, Mike's parents offered to ship a car clear cross-country to get their boy home. A sign for sure!

Now, spiritual convictions notwithstanding, that is a sign no matter how you look at it. I decided, what the heck, let's do it – America, here we come! We quickly made some calls and charted a course across the country peppered with stops from arranging for crashes on the couches, living rooms, floors and spare bedrooms of friends, relatives and acquaintances across the country. Was this really doable? It appeared so.
We were soon on our way… first stop? A pilgrimage to basketball's Mecca in Springfield Massachusetts. In all my (then) years on earth, I had yet to make the trip cross state to The Basketball Hall of Fame where Dr. Naismith invented our infamous American pastime with peach baskets and a leather, hand-sewn ball back in 1896.

The museum was awesome.

We arrived on a Thursday afternoon with about an hour left before closing. It was barren, with only a handful of workers who were all super eager to shuffle us through so they could go home. It's a big place if you've never been, two stories and a genuine museum. Lots of displays, memorabilia, endless plaques and installations of people who have broken (or established) basketball records throughout the years. Coozy. Bird. Jordan, Johnson. Dr. J. Abdul-Jabar. All living legends of the game. All well represented. But the best part was yet to come.

"Dey playin' Bas-ket-baaaaalll–!"
At the time, there was an installation that had a moving sidewalk, a kind of conveyor belt—like you find at the airport, with an endless rack of balls in front of you, where you could grab a ball and shoot at a sea of rims ranging in height from about four feet to well over 10. This was fun. This is what we had come for. Basketball was so much a part of our lives we were in heaven. Then out of nowhere, with a load "CLANG!" the conveyor stopped. A young woman appeared out of nowhere and told us we had 10 minutes before closing time and disappeared just as quickly. What? Are you kidding?

Now I don't remember who leapt over the rail first, Mike or me (I am going to guess it was me since that is NOT uncommon behavior for me), but in an attempt to gain a few more balls for taking another shot, I scurried about the installation, about a full court in length, and grabbed a few balls. On the way back, I found a little six-foot rim and couldn't resist. TWO-HANDED REVERSE, DOUBLE-PUMP JAM! That, as my southern friends say, was all she wrote! Mike is about 6' 6" and I'm about 6' 2" and we were officially in heaven. An impromptu dunk contest – hanging on 6', 7' and 8' rims screaming out stuff like; "Dude, check this out – WINDMILL!" We must have been there at least another 20-30 minutes. Easy.

Sweaty, exhausted, hungry and hands sore from dunking on more rims than we could count, we lumbered toward the front. At this point the museum was closed and the folks who worked there were all congregating in the lobby, shutting down lights, getting ready to lock up. They had completely forgotten about us! They stared in wide-eyed disbelief at the two of us panting and sweating as we said pleasant goodnights and headed to the parking lot.
I am sure what we did was immoral in the eyes of fans, if not borderline illegal. At the least, we violated the purity of basketball's greatest destination – and I would do it all again! It was a perfect storm of opportunity–meets double dare– meets all out fun! I will never forget it. Never. Neither of us will.

After all, have you hung from the rims during a dunk contest in the basketball hall of fame? I have. If you ever get the opportunity... I highly recommend it. 

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