A Note on Shots

Will it go through a hoop? Then launch away …

Yamashita Yohei/Flickr
Yamashita Yohei/Flickr


I have played basketball with soccer balls, volleyballs, kick balls, tetherballs, and once even a tennis ball, although that game did not last long, as the ball was incredibly difficult to dribble properly unless you were nearly horizontal to the ground, which is not a position from which you arise and vault easily into the stratosphere for a jump shot.

I have not technically played a basketball game with a golf ball, though I have taken shots with one, and with a baseball, a cricket ball, a rugby ball, a football, a Wiffle ball, and a beach ball, with clods of dirt, rocks and stones, a stale bagel, a baseball cap, and a golf club (just to see if you can cartwheel it through the hoop, which it turns out you can, if you spend an inordinate amount of time trying to do so). I have taken shots with frisbees and plastic cups and dog bowls and bright plastic beach buckets. I once hit a long set shot with a small wooden bowl and won a dollar for the feat. I once hit a short hook shot with a paperback copy of Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March, which is surely a sentence never written before in this lovely and tumultuous world. I once contemplated taking a middling set shot with the carcass of a squirrel but was persuaded this was a poor idea, which it was.

I have many times tossed balls of wadded paper through toy hoops and into bins and buckets across the room, sometimes deftly banking the shot off a desk or a wall, or one time an editorial colleague. I once flipped a plastic coffee cup over my shoulder through a toy hoop from eight feet away while talking to a college literature professor whose caterpillar eyebrows leapt up remarkably as he saw the feat accomplished, and that man had eyebrows like tracts of the most verdant Amazonian jungle. Twice that I remember, I walked into someone’s office and noticed a tiny toy basketball hoop perched on the door, and instantly, without thinking, in a classic mammalian case of sight leading immediately to instinctive act, reached into my pocket and tossed my car keys through the hoop, and capered and gamboled about crowing and boasting as if it were a buzzer-beater that won a league title.

But the one shot that I remember best, of all the many thousands of shots I have taken at basketball baskets, with hundreds of balls of every sort and shape, leather and rubber and various horrifying indeterminate plastics, is a shot one day in the playground of the grade school where my three children were educated. It was a mossy moist gray dripping Oregon afternoon, and my twin sons, perhaps age 10, were playing basketball with their fellow ruffians, as I walked long musing meditative laps around the adjacent soccer field. By happy chance, as I rounded the edge of the field nearest to the basketball court, the ball bounced away from the players and toward me; without pausing from my shamble, I picked it up on the bounce, set my feet, and launched a ridiculous 40-footer, from a terrible angle, through the gathering mist—a hopeless shot, a ludicrous shot, a shot of breathtaking arrogance that it was even attempted, rather than sensibly tossing the ball back to the players—and of course it dropped cleanly through the basket, and I shuffled on, grinning, and behind me I heard the most wonderful joyous thrilling satisfying sound a father can hear, other than the gentle splash of his children arriving wetly in this world: my sons whooping and crowing and laughing, delighted by and proud of and amazed by their dad.

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Brian Doyle, an essayist and novelist, died on May 27, 2017. To read Epiphanies, his longtime blog for the Scholar, please go here.


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