HEAVEN: PLAYGROUND BASKETBALL
BY SCOOP JACKSON
The playground is OG. Vintage like 200 gram vinyl.
Old school like having a “love of the game” clause in your contract just so you can ball on any playground and not have it held against you. The meaning in it not having the same meaning as it once did impacts the game. On so many levels. On all levels.
Michael Jordan’s simple contractual ode to the game outside of the game says all that needs to be said. I love this game so much that playing it anywhere with anyone at anytime is akin to playing this game for a living. Or better interpreted: Hooping on playgrounds is as important as dropping double-nicks in Madison Square Garden.
It remains the single most significant off-the-court validation of the role playground ball plays in the careers and lives of those that carry the game with them to heights those that never left the playgrounds never reached. It’s that picture of MJ hooping with those kids. Graffiti’d brink wall as the backdrop. Basketball, uninterrupted.
There’s a feel, spirit, connection and beauty to this game when played away from the lights, cameras, corporate impurity, insanity and pageantry that is close to indescribable. That words fail to do justice for or justify.
It’s there on the concrete. On the blacktop. Where the iron backboards levitate above ground. Where the orange, brown and rusted extensions from those backboards aren’t rims, they’re halos. Where orange has always been the new black.
This game, as mentioned earlier, was given life here. In the end, gonna die here. In these streets. In these ‘hoods. In these places where they set souls free. Throughout the history of basketball the hallowed grounds we call the playgrounds have been both basketball’s DNA and life support.
That place and space when all goes wrong at the professional level, when the love turns to hate in the major leagues, when the college leagues remind us what they are really about, when 4th and 5th graders start getting nationally ranked and profiled in the media, when you can’t watch another player’s mixtape or hype reel, the playground is — and always will be — the refuge.
The bounce of the ball is literally a heartbeat. The squeaks of cuts and jumps and stops and starts and directional changes represent the sound of soles looking for freedom. A freedom found where there are no walls, where there are no restraints on the creativity and improvisation. Where the game transforms itself into poetry; where it transcends art.
From art to Artforum*. Summer 2017 issue. Cover. Rim, net, backboard, clouds, sky. Like a prayer. Like something God created, not man.
The playground game is beautiful because it is personal.
It’s the feeling that takes over you when you see a court yellow taped off. Seeing the courts desolated across New Orleans after Katrina hit. The silence in Harlem after the Greg Marius passed away. It all hits us the same way. Same hollow feeling overtakes those of us raised on those grounds. Parts of us a still there. Parts that will never leave.
That omni and ever-present piece of land where everything that is beautiful about the game plays as the generational reminder of why we fell in love with the game in the first place. And why that feeling will never separate itself from every feeling we’ve all ever had about the game.
Rick Telander simply called it heaven.