The Fordham First Person series focuses on sincerity and self-disclosure. Not necessarily newsy, but always relatable, this series presents the stories of our community, recounted in their own words. “Bounce. Bounce. Bounce… Clank! Bounce. Bounce. Bounce… Swoosh!” These are the sounds that have been coming from the driveway of 231 Cornell Avenue for 17 years now, much to the chagrin of some neighboring houses. The driveway has been home to countless battles of 1-on-1, 2-on-2, 3-on-3, Knockout, HORSE, 21, and Around the World. It has seen many different faces, worn down many pairs of sneakers, dirtied many socks, and bounced back many different basketballs. But the sole mainstay of the driveway over all these years is the old, battered hoop that remains hovered over it.
The hoop made the trip from Cleveland, Ohio to Clarks Green, Pennsylvania atop our purple station wagon 1996. My dad had to travel to Cleveland for a week of meetings in May, and he returned that Friday with the greatest surprise I have ever received—a full-size outdoor basketball hoop. This wasn’t the little Nerf set that I had hanging on the door of my room. This was the real deal! This was the kind of hoop that MJ and Reggie play on! I had officially hit the big leagues.
The next day, I patiently watched as my dad put all the parts together. It seemed to take forever, but when the hoop was finally assembled and erected, my four-year-old eyes had never seen anything so beautiful. It was an out-of-the-ground hoop that was held in place by a black rectangular base that we filled with water and anti-freeze. Attached to the base was a long black pole surrounded by a red Velcro protection pad. At the top of the structure was a white half-moon backboard with the brand name “LifeTime” inscribed in black in the lower right corner. Coming out of the backboard was a shiny red iron cylinder with a red white and blue cotton net dangling from its hinges. I can still remember looking up at the finished piece for the first time. It was perfect.
And so began my obsession with basketball. The neighborhood kids—even the 10 and 11 year-olds—started coming to my driveway to play. My mom still recalls the time she looked outside and saw me playing two-on-two with some of my older neighbors. They were significantly bigger than me (I was six and they were ten years old), but I didn’t care. I was playing with the older kids on my court, my hoop. My mom says I didn’t touch the ball once. I was just running around, jumping, clapping, high-fiving, and loving every minute of it. They let me play with them, and that was good enough for me.
Eventually I grew and was able to keep up with the older kids in the neighborhood, thanks to many hours shooting at the LifeTime hoop. For a while, I wasn’t quite strong enough to shoot normally, so I would haul the ball from my shoulder, with the ball brushing up against my right earlobe, making my ears just as dirty as my hands. So after my mom’s third time yelling at me to come in for dinner, I would have to wash both my hands and my right ear.
Over the next decade or so, our driveway was the site of hundreds of highly competitive 1-on-1 games between my younger brother Matt and me, with each game ending with either a handshake or with punches, depending on the mood of the loser. Mom always rooted for the handshake. Of all the battles that took place on that LifeTime hoop, these games between Matt and me are the ones that stand out when I think back to the good ol’ days of our childhood. I like to claim that I am undefeated in the driveway, much like my dad has “never lost” to either of his sons on that hoop. Both are not quite true.
After graduating from Scranton Prep as a subpar high school basketball player with no college offers, I came to Fordham thinking that intramural championships would be the final highlights of my athletic career. For my first two years, the Lombardi Center was good to me, acting as my driveway away from home. I would often go to the courts by myself to shoot around, imagining myself at home, shooting in my driveway on the LifeTime hoop. We won an intramural basketball championship my sophomore year, and the countless pickup games with fellow ex-high school players in Lombardi accounted for some of my best memories at Fordham. It was a way of improving my skills while also making new friends, friends who convinced me to try out for Fordham’s men’s team.
After not making the team my sophomore year, I tried out again in September of my junior year and I was lucky enough to make the team as a walk-on. After I got the call from coach Mike DePaoli telling me the good news, I couldn’t help but think back to the days of shooting with my dad and brother in the driveway, dreaming of playing Division I basketball like our hometown hero Gerry McNamara, who was the starting point guard on Syracuse’s 2003 National Championship team. All of a sudden, the dreams that began on the LifeTime hoop in the driveway were actually coming true. I was a Division I basketball player. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t really believe it.
The LifeTime hoop still stands in our driveway, now accompanied by another more modern hoop directly across from it. One only has to glance at it to know that it has seen better days. What used to be a white backboard is now a dirty brown, covered in smudges and handprints. The square and “LifeTime” inscription have all but vanished. Some of the hinges that hold the net have fallen off and there is a large chunk of the top of the backboard that is missing. The hoop has weathered many storms, welcomed and denied many shot attempts, and barely evaded the fingertips of many MJ imitators. The grass that used to surround the driveway has not grown in over a decade, thanks to hundreds of trampling feet. Many things have changed, but the presence of that LifeTime hoop has not.
As the years have passed, my love for basketball has never wavered, all thanks to a loving father and one steadfast hoop.