Anyone that knows me well would be able to tell you that I'm a huge sports fan, but that I love basketball. Like, LOVE basketball. Playing, watching, coaching, fantasy...you name it. As much as I don't want this to sound like a "back in my day" kind of post...it might. My first hoop, that I can remember, was one of those height adjustable orange and blue 'little tikes' joints. I don't know the acceptable maximum age to playing on those things, but at about 11 or 12 years old, my friends and I had duct taped, manipulated and modified that hard plastic hoop to about 6 feet tall. We eventually destroyed it and graduated to milk crates nailed to trees or intricately tied with string to the chain link fence of the community tennis court. The apartment complex where we lived wasn't too excited about that, though.
After all of our basketball playing schemes had been thwarted by the complex's property management, it was time to move on. At 13 years old and with permission from my mom, I hopped on my bike with a basketball cradled under my left arm and pedaled the half mile to Alief Amity Park. The Big Time. From about 1996 until 2003, I was there for the majority of the summer days. I watched, played and learned the game of basketball on that slick slab of concrete. And every evening when I rode my bike home, I looked forward to going back the next day. I met a lot of characters there, a lot of really good basketball players and a lot of people who were great at running their mouths. Marathons of unsolicited but well intentioned advice came from strangers who didn't really know my name but knew my face. I loved that place. I loved it so much that when applying to colleges as a high school senior, guess what my essay was about? It was pretty damn good too.
Anyway, thanks for indulging the trip down memory lane but let me get to the point of this post. I have a 15 year-old-nephew, Eli, that creeps into my photography blog every now and then. A couple of weeks ago, I was scheduled to photograph a few football players at Texas A&M University and I thought it would be a good idea to bring him along. He's still on summer break, loves college football and as a rising 10th grader syllabi and student loans are right around the corner. A college visit could serve as an inspiration. Well, the shoot was postponed at the last minute so I had to think of another plan. Eli now lives near where I grew up so (light bulb!) a little one-on-one at Amity is a perfect opportunity for a trip down memory lane. The little guy, who is actually taller than I am, claims to be a baller of epic proportions. We'll play, and if he emerges victorious or runs me ragged, (he definitely did neither), I can explain to him the complex relationship between aperture and shutter speed to regain my superiority.
After getting past the initial nostalgia of being back at Amity, I started concocting a photo story about a kid going to the park alone, shooting around and generally working on his game. This was something I did a lot in the hours I spent there. Living vicariously through my nephew, I basically photographed a 15-year-old me at one of my favorite places of all time doing things that I was doing 15 years ago. Walking up the hill towards the court, engaging in 1-on-1 battles until enough people showed up for a game, waiting for next, exhaustion and dejection. How's that for a skewed version of the self portrait? Ideally, I'd like my nephew to enjoy the fruits of a summer routine that involves hoops at Amity. But that would mean convincing him to a) ride a bike and b) ride it 6 miles round trip. I know it's not much but, kids these days...right?
Follow Michael Starghill, Jr. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/starghill