Me and The Jet go way back. We first met on December 24, 1999. The Jet was on my Christmas list, and when I unwrapped him and pulled him out of his box, I knew we’d have a lasting relationship with another.
Smooth, leather, and with just the right grip, The Jet was a throwback to a different era, a prelude to a PETA-enforced generation of composite wannabes.
The first time I ever took The Jet to the gym, my basketball team didn’t put him down for an entire practice. The Jet was cool from the get-go, socializing with everyone, making friends, but still coming back to me at the end of the day. We were tight like that.
As the years passed, The Jet and I would run games all over the place. High school gyms, middle school gyms, elementary school gyms, college gyms, the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, city community centers, church gyms…you name it, we ran it. The Jet was our designated game-ball, and him and I had that rapport, that comfort with one another that you can only develop after a number of years together.
At times, it was like The Jet and I were a yo-yo, connected by a string. I would dribble him behind my back, through my legs, through traffic, bounce him high, bounce him low, cross him over, fast, then slow, then fast again. I could stutter, I could step, I could fake, I could juke, I could break, and The Jet would always follow. He rarely strayed from my guiding hand, except on those occasions when I’d pass him to another or will him to the bucket.
I hoisted The Jet from short range, long range, point-blank range, even ungodly range, and he always found a way to sneak through the net. There were times when he missed, times when I forced him up, times when we weren’t quite on the same page. But we’d figure it out, and then make it work the next time around. That was the great thing about The Jet. We had that communication between us. When he was off and I was on, or I was off and he was on, we’d hash it out together and realign ourselves as one once again.
There were moments when others would mishandle The Jet, and I would have his back, just as he had mine on those distant jumpers. People would kick him, slam him to the hardwood, sit on him, toss him to the rafters. I’d take my pal and set him aside, never allowing anyone to take out their frustration on an innocent bystander like that.
As game after game took its toll on The Jet, my faithful companion started to wear down. His rubber channels began to crack and peel. His leather panels began to fade. His grip all but disappeared. He was getting old. He wasn’t anyone’s designated game-ball any longer. He was a backup option. The ball we turned to if all others had been secured by their owners and taken home. He was relegated to the bench, a sad turn of events for someone who had once lived such a proud life.
I attempted to salvage The Jet’s career by turning him into an outdoor ball. And for a while, that worked. Never mind that The Jet was supposed to be an indoor-only basketball. We still had games to run together, and if we had to play those games outside, so be it.
Slick and slippery by this time, The Jet managed to maintain that smoothness he had carried around for nearly a decade. Like a Sam Perkins jumper or a Magic Johnson no-look pass. Silk.
On the outdoor courts, The Jet found new life in a rugged environment. Encountering puddles, mud, sticks, bushes, and, for the first time ever, concrete, The Jet and I persevered through playgrounds and schoolyards together, ever the dynamic duo. Every now and then The Jet would make a cameo appearance in a pickup game. But for the most part, he was just happy to be on my team. And I, in turn, was happy to have The Jet’s familiar presence in my lineup.
Then, just a few days ago, I picked up a brand new ball and began shooting with it. Every shot was true. The backspin was amazing. I could hit from 35 feet. I could hit from five feet. It didn’t matter. This ball had what it took to be the next Jet. And that’s when I knew it was time to say goodbye to the original.
The Jet had run his course. We had managed to enjoy life together for more than a decade. We had made hundreds — if not thousands — of appearances on courts of all shapes and sizes, always walking in and walking out at each other’s side. He had won me some games, brought me respect, and made me new friends. He never said a word. Never complained. Never let me down.
When I was going through good times, The Jet was there.
When I was going through bad times, The Jet was there.
When I needed basketball to repair my emotions, The Jet was there.
When I needed a game to fulfill my competitive desire, The Jet was there.
When I just needed company, on an empty court, late at night, under the lights and a cloudless sky, The Jet would join me. We’d swish, and clank, and bank, and bounce, and we’d figure out life’s greatest mysteries.
We’d get over a breakup, or make sense of mortality, or contemplate our future, or just enjoy the moment.
For almost eleven years, The Jet and I were inseparable. And now, sadly, our time has come to part. I can’t put The Jet in the trash can; a burial would be more fitting.
I could say a few words, but instead I’ve devoted this piece to my friend and confidant, the one who never revealed my secrets, who always listened when my heart needed to talk, who hurt with me, who felt joy with me, who sweat with me, who bled with me. You were good to me, Jet. You were never “just a basketball.” You were always more than that. You were a good friend. I’m going to miss you.