A foul was for crybaby nerds

In South Central, in the mid-’90s, when terrified white folks began to imagine that they were seeing gold-plated-dope-slingin’-gangbangers lurking around every corner, hiding inside every bush and shrub and going to war in every abandoned parking lot, they pulled up stake and lit out for the mud hills of Fairdale and the Hootered promised land of Dixie Highway in great droves of flaccid, non-nobility, but not before some wack fucker with a smidge of authority decided to cut down the basketball goals and lay waste to the open air courts of the Douglas Park Apartments and St. John Vianney Elementary in one fell swoop. But this dastardly, cloak and dagger deed just so happened to coincide with my father salvaging an old wood backboard, and a rusty hoop with no net, from who knows what junk pile and saw fit to hang it in the alley behind our house, thus turning our backyard into a public park, where every day for two years you could find upwards to 60-plus kids, many of whom hailed from the likes of Vietnam, Bosnia, Haiti, Cuba, Ethiopia and, one weird kid, from Atlanta, Georgia, all vying to be a star on the half-concrete, half-broken blacktop, half-court labyrinth of alley-oop grudge matches set to the sounds of N.W.A. and Nirvana…

Every day, hot or cold, rain or shine, kids and, sometimes, adults would bring the pain in the form of “21 Tap” and “21 Face,” our two favored games of ball with the odd game of “H.O.R.S.E” and “Around The World” thrown in from time to time to shake shit up … This was fucking streetball, unless you got popped in the face, a “foul” was something for crybaby nerds who were better off keeping their broke butts home pretending that Atari was a Super Nintendo … ’cause in streetball, if you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound, and there’s no better feeling than knocking some adversaries rock out of the air with bloody palms and bloody knees, or dunkin’ on some poor fool, as your nuts go swinging right into his face, and as heated as these games could get, I can only recall four fistfights in two years, which really ain’t shit, compared to the big picture of teen-on-preteen violence that goes down inside your standard maximum-security public school. In fact, most battles were started, fought and settled with words. See, it was then, as it still is today in South Central, if your tongue isn’t razor sharp and thirsty for blood in the high art of shit-talk, then you would do best to watch yourself the next time you’re stuffing your hole with a spring roll in Vietnam Kitchen, ‘cause if the likes of a William Gatsby feels as if you’ve slighted him, well my good sweater-vested sir — his blaster is permanently set to “roast,” and he will light your lily-livered ass up and send you burning back to Cherokee Triangle in two shakes of a pit-bull’s cropped tail.

We would hoop all day, and, in the summers, shoot the shit late into the night, kids coming and going through the gate at all hours. It was fantastic! But like all stories of high adventure, there lies in wait a foe, a person, or persons, who are usually old, ugly and completely void of chill. Our dragons of destruction came in the form of a couple in their mid-50s, who threatened to sue my father if he didn’t dismantle the goal, after their precious aluminum garage door had been dented by a ball gone loose one fateful afternoon. And so no more ball, snatched from our hands as if from the sky by those who live crunchy, wack and not beautiful because nothing beautiful has ever watched the “700 Club” and enjoyed it.