I moved around a lot as a young kid. Fortunately, most of my moves were in the same city, so I got to keep all of my friends. One of the places where I lived was nicknamed Snake Pit Acres. The “snake pit” was a standard apartment complex with four apartments per building, two downstairs, two upstairs. Our apartment was upstairs with a view of a large dirt pile that must have been made when the land for the complex was excavated. We only lived at Snake Pit for a couple of years, but looking back, I can say that it wasn’t as bad being there as the name suggested.
First, there were plenty of areas to play. There was a basketball court and it would be the place where I would start to develop a love for shooting hoops. There weren’t many other basketball players there, so I would spend most of the time firing up jumpers and pretending to be Dr. J. Keep in mind that this was still the days of the boring NBA versus the crazy, stylish ABA and I loved the red, white, and blue ball. Julius Erving was the first basketball player that I would follow and even when he broke my heart by beating the Lakers with a vicious tomahawk dunk on Michael Cooper and defying gravity with the greatest reverse lay-up in history, I always thought of Dr. J. as my favorite player. Magic and Kareem would ascend as well, but Doc was the first.
Getting out on the court and shooting can be a spiritual. I used to get lost in the Walter Mitty of the whole thing, draining buckets to win every game. I loved beating up on Dave Cowens and the Celtics, but at that young age, I had no understanding why. Later I would know, Boston and LA hate each other in basketball and I could not stand those green uniforms. Please don’t confuse my dislike of the Celtics for anything other than sports. The teams in 80s were great and the rivalry between my Lakers and Boston was the best ever. Too bad both suck now. It wouldn’t matter because I’ve converted, going with my basketball DNA and hanging through the years of tanking to live and die with every move of my 76ers! “1-2-3-4-5-6-76ers…”
There was also football at Snake Pit. I never played organized football, so the backyard variety was all I knew. Kids from Carver Gardens used to walk over to the apartments after school and we would have some good games. I wanted to be Drew Pearson or Roger Staubach. That’s right, a Cowboys fan… I haven’t been able to convert to the Eagles. Since I never played, all those dreams of being a wide receiver would peak in the playground of the Acres.
The last thing that captured my sporting imagination was the swings. I always wondered if I could swing hard enough to go all the way around the pole. Physics says it’s possible, but I didn’t have the stones to go Jackass and see if it I could do it. Then, again, the swings were an opportunity to dream and the big dream in 1976 was to be a downhill skier. The Olympics that year featured a crazy high flying race to the gold by Franz Klammer. He pushed his skies to the edge of disaster, caught flight, and regained control of his rocketing body to ski into first place. My friends and I would swing and jump out trying to go as far out as we could. I don’t remember there being any mulch or tire chips to cushion our landing, so “falling gracefully” became a real thing long before Buzz Lightyear hit the scene.
Maybe my time at Tam-O-Shanter boulevard was less about sports than it was about imagination. Dr J., the Cowboys, Franz Klammer, each was a dream that help me to pass the time and got me outside doing things. I had imagination instead of a calendar full of travel practice schedules. There were no video games or the internet to wrestle for my attention. Heck, there wasn’t even cable or MTV yet.
There was play and I got to go outside and play.
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