Scroll down to 12-19-16 to start at the beginning.
On January 2 we went back to school. On the school bus John and Kenny and Philip and David asked me where I'd been during Christmas vacation, why I hadn't come around with my new ball so we could all play together. I told them I had been too busy to play basketball, farm work and all that.
"Ha," said Philip. "I'll bet he's practicing by himself so he'll get good and put us all in the morgue!"
They all laughed. Right then I would have loved to see them in the morgue; it could have saved me a lot of embarrassment. I smiled weakly, trying to indicate that he was right. Better to lie to my friends, I thought, than to try to explain about the basketball that was not a basketball. It would have been disloyal to my family to disparage the gift I had received, but I could not bring myself to let anyone else see that "gruesome globe."
Nonetheless, it was all I had, so after school, when the bus had disappeared over the hill where dead sassafras leaves shook listlessly in the winder wind, I would take the ball out of its box, carefully kept out of sight behind the pull-out bed in the living room where my little brother and I slept, and I would go out to the barnyard and heave it toward the rim on the barn.
I never learned to drive to the basket, because I could never dribble with that ball. I could not shoot a normal push shot from outside, because the ball was so light that the wind would carry it away. (Only an occasional "freak" from New York shot the new-fangled "jump" shot. "The Great Scism" and other sports writers assured one and all that it would never have a place in the game because a shooter had to have at least one foot on the floor to be able to control the flight of the ball.) Instead I developed a two-handed "set" shot that was pulled back behind my head and then hurled on a line directly at the backboard just above the rim, as hard as I could throw it. The force of the throw and the low trajectory combined to defeat the wind. I couldn't even lay it in, because the barn side was too rough for the light ball, and it would carom off in any odd direction.
Other than my "throw" shot, about all I could do with that ball was stand with my back to the basket and twirl for a one step "curl" shot or twist around for a hook shot. I learned to vary the arc on the hook according to the wind. When the wind was strong I shot a line drive that barely cleared the rim. When the wind was gentle I faded away and arched the ball high. I learned to shoot those shots with either hand. It wasn't really that difficult; the ball was light enough and small enough that I could grip it easily.
I never had another ball of my own, and I never let anyone else see that Christmas basketball. I continued to walk to the homes of my friends for games. When I reached seventh grade I got to use the balls on the playground and in the gym. I was never the great player I dreamed of becoming. My skills were too limited. More importantly, my confidence was limited. When I was a teen-ager, however, and later in college, there were games when I dazzled the opposition with an array of hook shots and an indefensible overhead throw shot.
"Where in the world did you learn to shoot like that?" people asked me. I never said.
[To be continued and finished tomorrow, 12-22-16, with Part 4 of 4.]