Saturday, December 11, 2010
I was thinking about that ball this morning because no sooner had I submitted to the Facebook status gods my wish that there be a pro hoops franchise in Saint Louis (less for the games than for the gear) than I discovered that there is one: the St. Louis Pioneers. All life should be so easy. But wait, there's more. Not only is there a pro team in St. Louis, but they play in -- wait for it -- the American Basketball Association. That's right the ABA. It's not your daddy's ABA, but it wants badly to be. It even licensed the name from the NBA which apparently owns it (of course, it owns everything related to basketball).
|What David Stern Sees|
But nevermind all that: St. Louis basketball is back. That's the story, the narrative arc: there is this thing that is one, it is called St. Louis basketball. Like God, or the Word, it was made flesh. That flesh was called, first, the Hawks (Pettit), then the Spirits (Barnes, Malone) and now the Pioneers (um, Erving? the ABA).
|a spirit of saint louis|
|A Time Machine|
|A More Dangerous Time Machine|
|Another kind of history|
|George Karl: One Last Time Machine|
That ball my dad brought me back from San Antonio was one of two gifts from his business trips that I will never forget. The other was a genuine St. Louis Cardinals football helmet. So everything seems to come together, or at least it does when you begin to tell stories about it. The ball bore the autographs of (in order of recognition by me at the time): 1) Swen Nater; 2) George Gervin; 3) George Karl. I imagine their head coach, Tom Nissalke, also signed it since he was our neighbor who lived up the street from us in Madison, Wisconsin (I don't know, don't ask) and was probably the reason my dad got into the Spurs locker room after the game.
[Addendum from my father via e-mail, demonstrating how every history can be improved through surprising complication: "Sorry to disappoint you. Cannot remember the year of the meeting at San Antonio. I can tell you that it was not Nissalke who was instrumental in getting me the autographed ball but the representative of one of the laboratory companies that had a stand at the scientific meeting and when he learned that I planned to attend a game of the Spurs he said he was going too and he would get me the autographed ball. I shall continue digging into my records and hope to find some document (program, abstract, etc.) which might allow me to identify for certain which year was the meeting." My dad's research proved fruitful, determining that he was attending a conference in San Antonio from March 19 to 21 of 1975. That means he had caught the Spurs playing the Virginia Squires at home on March 21, just back from a road trip to -- you guessed it -- the Spirits of St. Louis.]
For many years that ball remained pristine. I saved it -- now displaying, now storing it in a bedroom closet -- long after the ABA merged into the NBA. When I moved out for college it stayed behind in the bedroom. At some point, I came home -- probably from graduate school, maybe later -- and wanted to shoot some hoops. Usually we kept a ball (a regular orange one) in a box in the garage. But for some reason, there wasn't one this time. So, without a second thought I retrieved the old ABA souvenir and used it to shoot away in the driveway, every meaningless dribble wearing away forever a bit of myth made mine. I still am unsure how I could have done that. The truth is, I think that I probably found it in the equipment box, already worn a bit as though someone else had taken a few shots with it. I'm going home in a week or so and I want to see if that ball is still there. If it is, even if it is flat and ordinary, the markings of ordinary time erasing the markings of legend that it once bore, I'm going to bring it back home with me to St. Louis and protect it. Maybe I'll even take it to a Pioneers game and get some autographs. Better yet: maybe I'll bring it with me to a tryout.