November 7th, 2021
An ode to my basketball
I don't own a lot of things. I consider myself to be some sort of minimalist. There are however a few, seemingly trivial items that I still care about very much. Today, let me tell you about my basketball.
Don't think I know what I'm talking about. I've never played basketball seriously. Not in a team, not with a coach, or anything. I've played a little in school, and even a little more after school. Basketball was always the kind of sport that suited my ill-shaped body best. Even as a sluggish beanstalk I would get my share of rebounds and make a few shots from close distance.
However, I never owned a decent basketball as a teenager. So in 1999, when I had my first decently-paid student job, I treated myself to a brand new basketball: the Spalding Infusion Outdoor ball, complete with the signature of NBA commissioner David Stern, the guy who transformed the NBA into an international cultural phenomenon in the 1990s.
I followed the NBA quite enthusiastically in the 1990s. By then, only a few matches could be seen in Germany. But it was the perfect show for male adolescents. Each team had a unique character and fascinating protagonists, like Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, Shawn Kemp, John Stockton and Karl Malone, Shaquille O'Neal, and of course, Michael Jordan. The NBA was magic and with my new ball, I felt like a part of all that.
The Spalding Infusion had a built-in pump, which was in hindsight the most useless feature imaginable. You could release the pump by pressing and turning a lid on the ball surface. However, the pump wasn't even 10 cm long, so to get a significant amount of air in, you had to pump like an idiot. The lid fell off a few years afterwards, but you could still lock the pump with your thumbnail.
Despite that questionable feature, I was so happy with that ball. Together with my friends at the student's residence, we played everywhere in Bonn, at schools, at the university, and on courts in the neighbourhood. And I also played alone a lot. I used to practice free throws, sometimes 500 in a row. There are few things that helped me clear my mind more than being on a court and throwing some hoops.
The ball accompanied me through all major events in my life. Marriage, finishing university, the birth of our daughter, several moves. Sometimes I played more, sometimes less. But the ball was always there, diligently waiting for me to get in the mood. And for one last time, it came to my rescue: during the pandemic I rediscovered playing basketball, which became a welcome distraction from the everyday mayhem.
Nevertheless, by then it was obvious that my basketball was doomed. It only held sufficient air pressure for a few hours, and the surface was totally deteriorated, the once shiny brown had faded into a fuzzy grey, and David Stern's signature was nothing but a faint memory. So it was no surprise when the internal pump finally broke. With every dribble the ball was audibly losing air. It was the last dance. After twenty-two years, my basketball was dead.
It wasn't quite as intense as Tom Hanks saying good-bye to Wilson in Cast Away. Still, I felt a little melancholic for a few days, which is quite silly to be honest. But I realized how grateful I was for all the time I spent playing with this ball, for all the people I met and played with, for all the kicks and all the calmness it gave me.
But now for the happy ending. Today I was ready. I went to the same store where I had originally bought my beloved basketball, and got a new one. Easy as that. Thank you Spalding Infusion. Go go go Spalding Gold! Let's play some hoops.