It was a pilgrimage, not unlike what Paul Simon sang about Graceland or that whirlwind weekend of college when we packed the six of us in a Ford Contour to drive to New York City and haggled with scalpers outside the Garden, all so we could see our first Knicks game live.
I pulled into Springfield, where Dr. James Naismith invented basketball, and where the Hall still carried his name. Not aware these hollowed grounds would be part of a strip mall, attached to a bar and grill on one side, a burger joint on the other.
But I paid my twenty dollars and rode the elevator up, top floor, rarefied air, well above any regulation rim.
The players were categorized by year of induction, commemorated with encyclopedia-style paragraphs about their careers. Odd memorabilia wedged between them. Game-worn sneakers, championship rings, game balls bought from estates or gifted by men and women as hungry to keep their legacies alive as the Hall was to have something to celebrate.
I imagined a different Hall. One dedicated to you and me. Your sneakers, smaller than any on display, size five and a half. The pumps you were to my brother’s wedding, or the faded pink and blue running shoes you pounded sidewalks and roadways in, all those years, always faster than me, too much faster, even, for it to be cute or fun. Until I was embarrassed to run with you, and stayed in.
I worked my way down the Hall. Like descending layers of Hell. The next floor down, there was less categorization. No need for Hall-of-Fame pedigrees, just assorted memorabilia from the NBA, the WNBA, the college ranks. A small crane manned by a disaffected teenager to raise and lower a basketball on a string, to test how high visitors could reach for a rebound. Life-sized cardboard cut outs of Muggsy Bogues and Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing to test your height against for a sense of scale. A photo opp.
And what might this floor look like for us? Not the first kiss, first I love you kinds of moments, but maybe the ripped popcorn box from a movie a year or two into dating, or the futon from college where we made out a few times, that you made me leave at the curb when we moved in together. The Tori Amos CD you cried over when I gave it to you for Christmas, not because you loved it, but because you already owned that one.
Not kid stuff.
On the second floor there was a basketball court with maybe ten, fifteen hoops lowered to give visitors plenty of room for shooting contests or one-on-one games. Because after all of this history, what kind basketball junkie wouldn’t want to take a shot of his own?
We went shot for shot, you and me, in the old days. In the not so old days. Liquor shots. Pot shots. Shots in the dark.
Do you remember when we saw a shooting star?
It’s easy to conflate fact and fiction, memories and moments from daydreams. We make legend out of everyday things. Isn’t that the way it’s always gone?
1879, Naismith hung peach baskets from walls and told kids to throw soccer balls at them. To try to get the ball in the basket.
Here we are.
Hall of Fame
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and is an alum of Oregon State's MFA Program. He won Bayou Magazine's Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction and has work published or forthcoming in journals including The Normal School, Passages North, Iron Horse, Front Porch, and Bellevue Literary Review. He works as a contributing editor for Moss. Find him online at miketchin.com or follow him on Twitter @miketchin.