So, I was reading ‘Heaven is a Playground’ by Rick Telander. Through his views on Streetball in 1970′s New York City, I began to think more about it’s lesser known suburban equivalent: Dunkball.
I loved Dunkball. It was such a fantastic game for those of us that could not possibly hope to do high flying, acrobatic moves on a ten foot rim. And I wondered if there was something to that. Something more cultural relevant. And I began writing. Then I stopped writing as I had no idea where to go with it (most likely because there is no where to go). So, I share with you an abandoned essay:
EIGHT AND A HALF FEET
Streetball in the ‘Burbs
One and a half feet marks the difference between a lay-up and a two-handed jam. It is what turns a teenager of average height and skill into Michael Jordan. The things that could be accomplished on an eight and a half foot rim were beyond compare. They could make a cager hack into a streetball legend and a 10 cent game into a $200 shoe.
Dunkball is what we called it. It was basketball in theory only. Sure, you had to dribble and put the ball in the basket. However, traditional gameplay is thrown out the window. Jumpers? Forget about it. The game is played in the paint. 5-a-side? Try 7-on-7. And ‘No Blood, No Foul’ would be putting things mildly.
If you can understand how so many rap records are sold in the suburbs, you can truly understand the cultural pull of Dunkball. Consider that most stretches of blacktop in suburbia are reserved for roads or parking lots. These slices of inner-city appeal were about the closest thing to Rucker or Brownsville as could be had in Bergen County, New Jersey. It was the only refuge we had where we could be our own versions of ‘Fly’ Williams or Earl ‘The Goat’ without fear of a major beat-down for attempting to be pretty fly for a white guy.
When the temperature hit 90 it truly was like a jungle (central air kept you from going under). With the blacktop radiating the heat, tempers could flare on the court. Things like a questionable foul call to someone shooting a lay-up could get people hot under the collar. Though, before gats or blades were drawn, people quickly remembered they were in the presence of immaculate public schools and got on with the round.