Professional basketball player turned statesman, Bill Bradley wrote a book long ago. I read it as a kid. It was called “A Sense of Where you are.” I haven’t thought about it in a long time. But I did last night. We were fanatic about basketball in my neighborhood in Connecticut. Eerily similar to Bloomington.
We would play for hours at the local Ellsworth park in the small town of Black Rock. Pick up games with players much older, faster, better. There was a pecking order at the park, determined by free-throws. First 5 made were on one team, the next on another. Games to 21. Winner stays on the court. One of the beautiful things about basketball is that the basket doesn’t move. Theoretically, you should be able to shoot a ball with your eyes closed, say, from the foul line. Bradley had a knack of knowing where he was on the court at all times. We had a hoop at the house too. Dad put it up on the roof of the garage. He mounted a spotlight on the porch that shone on the basket so we could play late into the night. We broke every window in the door playing imaginary games against the likes of Pistol Pete, and Clyde and later, Dr. J.
I would ride my bicycle to the field. It was a Schwinn Stingray with a redwalled slick in the rear and a banana seat with a sissy bar! I would carry a duffel bag with a basketball, baseball bat, ball and glove, an extra plain white t-shirt, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a small jar of iced tea. I would stay until it was dark, one t-shirt drying on the hot court. I would ride home, often in darkness. I remember the feeling of the road and the sound of the tires, the sweat now cooling my skin, still feeling the heat rising from the asphalt. Here and there a streetlight would illuminate the way. In some places it was so dark that you couldn’t see. I recall feeling weightless, free, exhilarated.
Last night I went for a late ride. I often do a 20 mile, high tempo ride when I am squeezed for time. It’s a good ride that has a little bit of everything. I cut it a little short to visit with my family who were watching the IU women playing a soccer match at Yaegley field. I rode over there as dusk was settling in. It was getting cold and I was lucky to have a light vest and arm warmers with me. The team did well, winning easily.
When I left, it was completely dark. I rode the few miles home without lights down Dunn past Griffey. There were a few street lights in the residential areas but it was pitch black by the lake. It was chilly out and the sweat was cold under my vest. I could still feel the warmth coming off the street and could just barely make out the edges of the road. I seemed to be going much faster that I actually was. When it’s dark like this, the undulations in the road, unnoticed during the day feel profoundly different, small hollows giving way beneath the wheels. It was if, for a brief moment I was riding with my eyes closed with no reference points to guide me, no horizon to maintain, staying upright only through gyroscopic magic. I was a kid again, hurtling through space on my way home.