Driveway Basketball on a Sunny Sunday afternoon in March – a wonderful era now a distant memory

With the WARM Spring Weather finally busting out here in Mid Michigan, it has really made me reflect back to nearly 50 years ago on a day like this past Sunday – a day the sunshine melted the snow and dried the concrete of your driveway BONE DRY. And you would hear that magical sound in the neighborhood of the pounding of multiple basketballs during “warm ups” as kids would gather and teams would be hand-picked and egos would be swallowed. We would name our “courts” for those who had baskets in their driveways – The Garden, The Forum, Cobo, Jenison or Crisler – depending where your passion lied. And we all “named ourselves” after our heroes – for me (a Michigan guy) I was Cazzie (Russell) or Rudy T (Tomjanovich) or “Campy” (Russell). For my Spartan brethren – they were “Stan” (Washington), “Lee” (Lafayette) or “Ralph” (Simpson). Let the battles begin.

The visual scene was so vivid – coats and gloves peeled off kids, strewn on the shoveled snow banks. Kids down to their T shirts on a 42 degree sun soaked afternoon. We would have 12 to 14 kids participating from our neighborhood pool of talent (where Mayfair Drive and Kingswood Drive met in Northeast Lansing) rotating in for 4 on 4 half-court games – problematic in itself, as it made it super difficult to get “separation” for that open jump shot. We would start at say Noon or 1 p.m. on that Sunny Sunday from yester-year, and wrap it all up 6 or 7 hours later. The audio sounds were also vivid as well and oh so sweet – arguments, vulgar-level swearing, in-your face smack talk, and not one lick of nicety. Aw – a beautiful thing.

I would remember at least one or two fights would always break out following flagrant fouls that would find one frustrated defender sending an opposing player flying face-first into a slush pile to avert an uncontested lay-up – and the headlocks and wrestling in the muddy muck would ensue. I remember if you got “stuffed” (i.e. your “shot blocked” – that was the term back then), it would be so humiliating you would have to swish at least four or five 20 footers to even begin to “save face.”

And I remember most and “sweetest” of all – NO PARENTS interfering. You never saw ‘em. And I mean NEVER! They would allow us to settle our differences. And the only verbal contact from them was being called into dinner as the games would finally end, cued simply with the street lights popping on.

Ah yes – a beautiful time it was, in contrast to the structured, costly “RACKET” I call AAU basketball where kids are programed like “computer chips” with organized activities with 4 to 5 games per weekend all points thru out Mid Michigan. It gets to the point a kid stares at his parents with this “now where I am supposed to go next?” gander.

You see, when I was a kid, you didn’t see parents living vicariously thru their kids like you see now days. Now it’s an obsession, getting your kid signed up for the private coaching, participating in as many leagues as possible, for fear their kid will be “left behind” toward that ultimate “quest” of making the varsity when they are in high school. I mean “I get it” (you want your kid to have a fighting chance to compete) – but still – I just think it’s really-really sad

It’s a totally different era now as opposed to “back then,” with different priorities, and an abundance of “joystick” parents. And it only makes me be sincerely thankful that when I was “young” back then (50 years ago) – Driveway Basketball on a Sunny Sunday Afternoon was the Be-All, End-All. It was so much fun I can’t even accurately describe it, and we were all outside in the fresh air, we managed to settle our differences — and most compelling of all — it didn’t cost our parents a friggin’ dime!

(Follow Tom Crawford on Twitter @BlueBellyTom and come visit him during his Friday remote broadcasts with Jack Ebling at The Blue Gill Grill in Haslett 3-6 p.m.)

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