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My Vital Lesson — It's the People; It's Always the People Chapter 2, "Roots and Hoops"

I'm writing this, my next book — My Vital Lesson — one chapter at a time here (on

Place of Birth: Columbus, Ohio

All my life, I've written that on all kinds of forms. But when I did, not a single picture came to mind. I was born in Columbus, but we moved before I turned one. My place of birth was as as foreign to me as Timbuktu.

So, driving north from Kentucky on US—23, I veered toward Ohio's capital. I started with, literally, my place of birth — St. Ann's Women's Hospital on Bryden Road.

It's now an apartment building, but its bones and bricks are the same. It was kinda weird but cool being in the spot where I took my first breath and ventured into the outside world for the first time.

What used to be St. Ann's Women's Maternity Hospital

If all I had seen was the building where I was born, the Columbus excursion would have been worth it. But what happened next made the visit epic.


Before I left California, I bought a bunch of nets for basketball hoops and a small (but tall enough) ladder. I slipped them into the back of my Hyundai Tucson intending to stop and hang them on any netless rims I might spot at parks or schools.

I figured this woud be a solitary, almost clandestine crusade. I'd see a rim with a tattered net (or no net at all). Nobody would be there. I mean, who likes shooting at a hoop without a net? I'd hang a sweet, new nylon net and be on my way. Later, some baller would come by and be happy.

It worked out that way a few times, but definitely not in Columbus.

About a block away from St. Ann's is St. Vincent's Family (social) Services. (Not a shock; I was raised Catholic.) Its playground had an 8-foot basketball goal with a torn net. While a group of kids watched, it took me just a few minutes to replace it. Surprisingly, one of the little boys thanked me. (Not sure why that should have been a surprise, but it was.)

A very simple replacement job

While folding my ladder, one of the kids' supervisors approached. I knew what she was thinking.

"You want to know what the heck I'm doing here, right?"

"Well, kinda."

I told her my story and she was appreciative.

Feeling good not great — the task seemed almost too easy — I started to head toward Ohio State University to see the Buckeye's stadium. But I didn't get more than a quarter mile down the road when I saw it: A park with a full court. The two rims were regulation height (10-feet). Neither had a net.

One of the two aggravating, should-be-banned double rim hoops at my hometown park.

I had to pull over. This was unacceptable. This was my hood!

Even though it was July 4th, no one was there. Again, I unloaded my ladder and my basket of nets (which also held scissors, a flat-edge screwdriver, pliers, wire cutters and a basketball).

Damn! I thought, Double rims.

I hate double rims. They're popular with administrators who don't play basketball. Sure, they're sturdier, but because they have no give, they suck to shoot at.

And hanging nets on them is challenging. Earlier on my trip, I had to study a YouTube video to learn how to do it. (Is there anything you can't learn how to do on YouTube?)

About 10 minutes into a 20-minute job (per hoop) a man who lived across the street wandered over.

"I was sitting there on my porch and thought I should hold your ladder."

"That's so nice. But I'm ok. I've done this before and I have a plan. If I start to slip, I'll grab the rim, hang, then let myself drop down." (So far, I hadn't had to do that, but it really was my plan.)

"You sure?"

I assured him I was, and he went back to his porch.

A few minutes later some kids — about 11 or 12 years-old, I think — challenged me.

"Wanna play us?"

Here I am, an old man in Rainbow sandals standing on a ladder and they want to play me?

"Not right now. I need to finish hanging these nets." Then I got it. At least I thought I did. They were eyeing my basketball.

"As soon as I'm done here, you can shoot my ball. But you've got to let me film you. I want proof the net works."

After painstakingly hanging the second net, I told told the boys they could keep the ball. I was ready to go explore OSU.

"So you gonna play us now?"

Seriously? I thought.

"Seriously?" I said.

Over and over I told myself that if the trip presented an opportunity, I'd go for it.

Even ten years ago, I would jumped at this this one. But now I can barely jump at all. Or run. Or move quickly (the most essential of all basketball skills).

I hadn't played in years. Pulling, tearing or spraining something was more likely than not getting hurt. Moreover, I have an unhealthy fear of embarrassing myself.

"I need to change my shoes."

When I did drive away (intact), I headed the wrong way on a one-way street. The guy who'd offered to hold my ladder alerted me. I made a quick u-turn and waved goodbye. He waved back.

Strange, I thought. On the 4th of July, a complete stranger drives into his neighborhood, puts up basketball nets, plays pick-up with neighborhood kids then leaves, never to be seen again.

Was he curious? Why hadn't he asked me what I was doing in his part of the world? I would have explained how, a long time ago for a very short time, this was my world, too.

Maybe on some deep, intuitive level he already knew, and that's why he didn't ask. He didn't need to. Why I was there didn't matter.

I belonged, so I was accepted.

Columbus Reflections
  • Now, when someone asks me where I was born, I'll have clear pictures and good memories.

  • I should have let him hold my ladder! Maybe I didn't need him to. But if had, I bet we would have bonded. Opportunity lost. I've got to get better about defaulting to no whenever someone offers me help.

  • I entered Columbus with no plan or expectations and ended up having one of the best, most memorable days of my life. There's got to be a lesson in that.

I'm writing this, my next book — My Vital Lesson — one part at a time here (on To receive each part, right after it's written, I'd be honored if you subscribed to this website.

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