Bounce, bounce, bounce. Clang! Bounce, bounce, bounce. Swish!
As a child, those sounds were music to my ears. As soon as I heard a basketball dribbling, I quickly grabbed my basketball, always the first item on my Christmas list every year, and headed out the backdoor. As the screen door slammed, I shouted, “Mom, I’m going down the street to shoot baskets.”
We didn’t need a Pied Piper on Beecher Street to get all of the children to gather together. The lonely song of one basketball dribbling quickly turned into a chorus of a half dozen bouncing balls. We played in the summer and after school nearly every day when the weather permitted. We weren’t too picky about the quality of the weather, either. We were especially proud of our games of “ice ball” when dribbling wasn’t required because of snow or ice on the driveway.
We first began our basketball at Shari and Steve Peterson’s driveway. I remember playing games of “shoot it until you make it, shoot it until you miss it” as early as first grade. It was hard just to get a basketball all the way up to the basket then. Dale Peterson, Shari and Steve’s dad, would facilitate the games for us, always smiling and laughing as we played. In second grade, we gained another paved driveway and basketball hoop at the Slaughterbeck’s house, giving us two options for playing basketball. We continued to play and we learned to make layups there.
In sixth grade, the best thing ever happened to our basketball games when Don Bean, Ron’s dad, built a huge new garage with a wide and long paved driveway. It was a regular Taj Mahal of North Baltimore outside basketball courts. From then on, Bean’s driveway was the center of our basketball playing universe. Barely a day passed without a crowd of kids playing basketball on Beecher Street.
I remember games of one-on-one, three-on-three, and foul shooting contests. We also loved to pretend like we were taking the last shot to win an important game. The shooter had to narrate his own shot: “The Knicks trailing by one for the NBA Championship. Earl the Pearl Drives. Five, four, three, two, one. He shoots! He scores! The crowd goes wild!” Unfortunately, we usually missed.
My outdoor basketball memories are full of muddy feet, dirty hands, and lots of laughs. Sometimes older kids or friends from other parts of town would ride their bikes over to play at Bean’s house. I remember that being especially exciting.
I’m supposing that some of you are thinking about the outdoor basketball games that happened in your neighborhoods and wondering what is so special about the Beecher Street games. I guarantee that we had a unique feature that none of you had. There never was an outside basketball game on Beecher Street that didn’t involve Jim Gray practicing long distance shots, and by long distance, I mean half way down the block and across the street. It didn’t happen very often, but when he made one, I’m sure for that one millisecond, we had the most exciting outdoor basketball game in America right there on Beecher Street in North Baltimore.