The Black Hole

Throw the ball in, and it’ll never come out

By Brian Doyle | December 18, 2015
Philippe Leroyer/Flickr
Philippe Leroyer/Flickr


Anybody who has ever played on a basketball team knows what I mean when I say the words black hole. A black hole is a region of the basketball court occupied by a gravitational force from which no ball returns once the ball has entered it. A black hole can be of any size or mass, although in my experience black holes were usually forwards or centers who had sweeping reaches so that any ball thrown within half a mile of them was drawn into their possession even if the ball in question had been thrown to another guy standing within the same half mile.

Sometimes there were black holes who would, no kidding, leap to steal passes clearly and inarguably intended for a teammate. I played with a center once who had this trait, and while it could be enormously frustrating on offense, it was occasionally useful on defense, because while he was not at all interested in defense, and actively and vehemently disliked playing defense, and strenuously objected to defense apparently for religious reasons, and was raging impatient while his teammates played defense, and was the kind of guy who would always leak out on breaks hoping that someone else would cover his man so he might get a free basket at the other end, still, once a game or so, while not playing any kind of defense that we could see, he would suddenly leap and steal a pass, and instantly take off with the ball to try to score, whether or not any of us were open ahead of him, or he was being covered, or any of the usual reasons players share the ball with other players, which was not a language he spoke.

Our theory about these interesting moments when he suddenly appeared to be playing a flicker of defense was that he couldn’t help himself, being so attuned to the ball passing through his region of gravitational force that the arrival of the ball over his event horizon set off an inevitable reaction that led to him snatching the ball, followed by the irrepressible urge to score, followed sometimes by a hilarious turnover, although to give the man his due he did often score when in that situation, usually by pulling up for a long jump shot for no discernible reason other than he loved to shoot every single blessed time he got the ball, which is why we called him the black hole.

On the other hand he was a terrific offensive rebounder, although each and every one of his offensive rebounds immediately turned into another shot attempt for him alone; but still, offensive rebounders are rare and lovely beings, and should be savored when they appear, in the same way that we appreciate comets and asteroids and meteors. A hardworking offensive rebounder, even one who retrieves the ball in burly traffic with the sole intent of padding his own numbers, is an evident and comprehensible phenomenon, whereas a black hole, while theoretically not uncommon, remains an abiding mystery. The inner workings of the black hole, and why exactly he exhibits such a ferocious gravitational force, is a fascinating puzzle, like many other aspects of basketball, for example why our center’s right arm did not fall off after taking 30 shots in 40 minutes, and why the tallest forward we ever played with did not snare a single rebound that we remember in the two seasons we played with him in a tough league where God knows we could have used a few boards from a starting forward, for heaven’s sake. But who is bitter? Not me. Certainly not me.

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