Writings

Why I care so much about outdoor basketball courts

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Everyone has their court. Mine was in my grandma’s driveway. 

Just a block away from my childhood home Southwest Portland, my grandma’s house was my after school landing spot in elementary and middle school. Both of my parent’s worked more than full-time jobs, leaving me whole afternoons and evenings to find ways to spend my time as my 80-something-year-old grandma read books or watched television. 

In between bouts on the Nintendo 64, I would be out in the driveway playing basketball on a court that barely resembled anything considered regulation.

The court was a few feet wider than a basketball key and stretched well beyond an NBA three point line. The hoop was probably 9’3’ and sat on top of a cream colored two car garage. If a shot went too far right or too far left, the ball would go bouncing over the garage and spit out onto a hillside full of blackberry bushes. If a ball rolled out into the street, it would continue its momentum down a long hill.

If a person went in for a layup too fast, they’d crash into the garage door. A shallow curb ran along the right side making for the perfect ankle roller. On the left stood eight foot tall bushes that would swallow people whole if they were fouled driving to the rim.

My grandma’s driveway will always be where I developed a passion for basketball that still thrives today. It was abusive to the point that I had a new band aid on my knees or elbows every week. The court couldn’t handle more than two on two. The three point line was a jagged hairline crack running horizontally across the back of the driveway. 

This court isn’t unique in that I think everyone who loves basketball spent a lot of time on some slightly flawed or quirky backyard, driveway or park court. I think that’s what makes outdoor courts so great. For every misshapen backboard, low hanging tree or slight decline, there are people who love playing so much that they’ll deal with the defects. The world is full of slightly messed up courts that fit into spaces a regulation indoor court would never work. And from those flaws, the space and place creates unique experiences, funny stories and sometimes things of beauty.

For me, I can think of seven or eight courts I played on throughout my life that fit into this category. The court down the street from my house in Portland, Oregon is constantly full. On Sunday afternoons during the summer, there are full court games rolling for six straight hours. Yet this court has low hanging trees that essentially eliminates three point shots for people stuck on the wrong end. The disadvantage is absurdly lopsided. Yet people continue to show up and run knowing they have to out play the other team with only two point shots. It’s amazing.

These courts are everywhere. They’re tucked into alleyways and park corners. They are the places people make due because getting in a car driving somewhere nicer doesn’t compete with the court where you know the people and you know the flaws.

 
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As an adult I gravitate toward outdoor courts. I love how really the only constant is a hoop and a ball. The rest is a myriad of cultures, perspectives and experiences. The court I walked by framed by the mountains of Northern Vietnam was a world away from the blue skies and ocean breeze of the Venice Beach Courts in Los Angeles. Yet with both I could step on and play or simply observe from the side. The language, cultural and socio-economic barriers are reduced down to almost nothing on an outdoor basketball court.

I wanted to create a sense of community for people who share these experiences. Three years ago, I was backpacking through the mountain town of Sapa in Vietnam. 

That’s essentially the essence of Ball Out Here. I wanted to create a place where people could share the courts and what they mean to them. It’s as much about the places basketball has taken you as it is about the places it will take you. From your earliest memories to the courts you’ve seen while traveling, I want to read about the best courts around the world. I want Ball Out Here to be a reminder that no matter where you are in the world, there’s a court nearby and people ready to connect over basketball.

 
Ryan Imondi