Growing Up Beyond Kips Bay

Changing times leave basketball courts abandoned

NEW YORK—The basketball court of Kips Bay Towers is an asphalt oasis in Murray Hill, a chain-linked refuge where a scuffed backboard, once pristine white, hangs as a canvas of missed lay-ups and passed time.

We, six-year veterans of strokes gone awry, fancy ourselves the playground’s primary artists.

I have lived here all my life, but my friends and I first began congregating at the court during our sophomore summer at Regis High School. Usually five or six guys strong, we’ve played countless games and endured epic battles of knock-out, twenty-one, and three-on-three. Quickly, we established traditions: watching movies afterwards at the theater next door, eating all our post-game meals at the nearby Gemini Diner, constantly joking and talking trash. Each day, someone would inevitably hear a gibe about their mother and/or sister which would have made Marco Materazzi blush.

On the court, we saw everything from the hilarious (the time we soundly defeated a troop of 12-year-old challengers) to the borderline pathetic (how much we relished in loudly swatting the same 12-year-olds’ jump shots). In general, though, the details of our actual games are pretty unremarkable. Kevin has the deadest eye out of all of us, Pietro, the sweatiest torso, and I, meanwhile, own a history of dishing behind-the-back passes which never seem to materialize into assists.

We cannot dunk, we probably miss more shots than we make, and we keep coming back for more.

At least, until this year.

During our putative last hurrah as college students—a long, long way from our days unwinding from art history, physics, speech, and debate—we have suddenly broken tradition by playing only one game since the summer began.

This wasn’t a premeditated development, to be sure. We certainly still enjoy playing basketball, and after three school years spent apart, it’s not that we irrevocably grew apart as friends. Instead, we’ve simply chosen to reapply our leisure time. Collectively, we have somehow found ourselves relocated to—dare I say it—more “adult” venues: bars, other cities, and less familiar blocks within our sprawling hometown. Unconsciously, we left Kips Bay to embrace the idea of doing new things with other people: other friends, complete strangers, and our classmates and roommates from college.

Why? The odds, in a way, were stacked against us from the start. Outdoor basketball requires sunlight, and too many of us are now employed, limiting our free time to weekends, if that. Others are taking summer classes or preparing for graduate school entrance exams. A couple of weeks ago, Kevin actually tore his MCL in a street fight. And a few are physically absent, gone to Boston and England. We live in stark contrast to a time when anyone who dared go on vacation with their family—leaving the rest of the crew a man down—was publicly shamed.

But maybe the bottom line is that our tastes have evolved with our liberties. Today, in possession of convincing state identification, we willingly slice hours off of our afternoons and graft them, later and later, onto our nights. With several driver’s licenses among us—a rarity among native New Yorkers, I assure you—three of us even drove up to Massachusetts this past weekend rather than stick around to hoop it up at home.

Indeed, with every passing weekend and newly aborted game of three-on-three—complete with the inescapable, increasingly terrifying conversation about graduation and gainful employment—all signs suggest that this trend will be a lasting one.

To be honest, I don’t yet know if I like it. Our group has managed to avoid such negligence for half a decade, even after we splintered off across the country for college. We did a lot more at the court than merely play basketball: We relied on it to buffer the passage of time—to nostalgically quote A. Bartlett Giamatti—to socialize, and to continually reconnect with our original gang. In the court’s custody, we went from talking about girlfriends, to eventually attaining girlfriends, to losing girlfriends, and then back again.

Still, I hesitate to proclaim that our departure from the playground symbolizes how my friends and I have finally decided to mature and “grow up.”

That would imply, first of all, that we—well-educated 20 and 21-year-old men—were not grown up to begin with. And secondly, that we no longer regularly execute “your mom” jokes so ingenious that we run the constant risk of being head-butted. At least one of those things, of course, remains dangerously untrue.

But I admit that I can all but feel the drizzle of impending adulthood. On my walk home from work, after all, it’s hard to ignore the basketball court that sits quietly downstairs. Vocal in its silence, a filthy backboard invites more than the hope that the coming rain won’t wash our scuff marks away.

Pablo S. Torre ’07, a Crimson sports editor, is a sociology concentrator in Quincy House. He is gainfully employed at Sports Illustrated this summer, and would even be amenable to playing soccer thanks to Zinedine Zidane and the 2006 World Cup.