Basketball’s Journey: A Lost Ball Comes Home in East Hampton

Dan comparing new basketball with his smaller lost and then returned ball
Dan comparing new basketball with his smaller lost and then returned ball
Dan Rattiner

The worst thing that could happen when I play basketball on the asphalt in front of our garage is that the ball gets away from me, bounces off down the driveway into the street, and then crosses the street to splash into the bay.

I’ve often imagined it happening. I run down after it but have to stop short because of the traffic, then watch as two cars collide while swerving to avoid it, watch it bounce down across the boardwalk and over the bulkhead to splash into Three Mile Harbor and be sucked out into Gardiner’s Bay and the world beyond at the next low tide.

This is not an ideal way to end a basketball game.

And so, every time I play, which is most every day for half an hour, I carefully close the big wooden driveway gates before I start so if the ball gets by me, it bounces into the gates, stops there, and I can run over and retrieve it.

As a result, during these last 10 years, the ball bouncing down the driveway never happens, except that back this past November, it did. The really odd thing is that yesterday, three months later, it came back. Look at the shape it was in when it returned in the two side-by-side photos above. I am standing outside the closed gates holding a regular basketball in the first picture. In the second, I am holding the basketball that got away. It’s smaller. And all the writing on it is gone.

Earlier yesterday, a sunny day, my wife, who took these two pictures, had spotted it. It sat in the grass to the side of our driveway where it meets the road. It’s completely open there. It’s not that it could have been there all this time. We’d have seen it.

And so, I am convinced that since I’ve played basketball every day for so many years, whoever put it there knew where it belonged, either because they had seen or heard me playing the game from the street from time to time, or they were readers of this newspaper who had read in an occasional column about my daily basketball game.

Where had it been? Out in the ocean and back? Picked up while bobbling in the bay by a passing motorboat passenger? Cavorting with a Russian fishing trawler captain? Nobody would know the answer to that question except the ball itself. And it wasn’t talking, at least for a while.

It was like a note in a bottle. A cat that came back. (We thought she was a goner.) “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” as Dr. Seuss wrote.

The truth was, I’d never seen it leave. But I did discover it gone the next day.

That day, wanting to play, I could not find the ball. It was not in the family room. It was not in the chair. It was not in the kitchen. It was not anywhere! Oh no!

But then, suddenly, like a bolt out of the blue, I knew what had happened. On that fateful basketball-playing day the day before, I had not found the time to play until after dark. How could I play after dark? But then I got an idea. I’d play a night game and light the court with our car’s bright headlights. I backed up the car until it was partway down the driveway facing the garage and I turned on the lights. They shone very bright. To soften it, I closed the gates so the scene of the action would have picket-fence shadows amid the headlight glare. And so I played. It all worked.

Half an hour later, the game ended when the ball bounced past me and stopped by the closed gates. I was tired. That was it.

Walking toward those gates to retrieve the ball, the glare from the headlights got brighter and brighter, hurting my eyes. So I decided the next thing to do would be to walk to a smaller gate alongside the bigger gates and from there, walk through to the driveway, feel my way around the back of the car and into the driver’s seat, and turn off the headlights. And so I did that. After that, I got out of the car and, reaching in over the pickets, unlatched and opened the big gates so sometime later I could drive the car back up toward the garage. This inadvertently gave the ball the opportunity to tiptoe down the driveway, cross the street between cars, and plop into the bay, free at last! Thank God, I’m free at last! And he’ll never know.

Not only did I never know, I also then forgot about the basketball entirely and went into the house alone. My wife was reading in the TV room. So I sat down next to her.

“How did it go?” she asked.

And so the next day, it came to pass that there would be no more basketball until I went in to town and got a replacement at Gubbins Running Ahead, where the store manager was used to providing me with basketballs when they wore out and not when it was just a few days since he’d sold me an earlier one.

Well, what a surprise it was yesterday to find the old basketball back after its long lonely journey. It is smaller, softer, damper and squishier. But the grooves are in it. Its pattern gives it away. It’s my ball. And the hole where you stick the needle of the pump is still there.

I went to get the pump.

“Don’t you dare,” it said. “I’ll explode. I mean it.”

I didn’t and it never said another word. At the present time, it occupies a special place on the mantlepiece above our fireplace, where it might be sitting just below the deer antlers mounted on the wall if we had such a thing, which we don’t.

Welcome Home, Fred. Yes, I’ve named it.

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