A few thoughts on the meaning of basketball in these difficult times

A  trash bag covered a basketball rim on the Welcome Young Playground in Quincy.
A trash bag covered a basketball rim on the Welcome Young Playground in Quincy.Stan Grossfeld/ Globe Staff

My kid called me up, and I could tell from the tone of his voice he’s unhappy.

“Dad, it’s over,” he says. “The last thing I can do to keep my sanity is gone. They’ve attached garbage bags with plastic ties over every basketball rim in Quincy. The Y is closed. I just wanted to shoot some baskets by myself. Now even that’s gone.”

I tried to be the voice of reason. Sure, it’s unfair that he couldn’t shoot hoops by himself, but elsewhere kids were playing full court games as if nothing was wrong. That ruined things for everybody. Some kids believe they are immortal. Healthy NBA players contracted the coronavirus. Celtics star Marcus Smart had it.


This is a worldwide pandemic, I reminded him. People are dying, losing jobs, health benefits, and savings. Come home to the redundancy of TV sports reruns where the end is always the same, I told him. Bird always steals the ball from Isiah and passes to a cutting DJ. Dave Roberts is eternally safe at second base, and Julian Edelman somehow always scoops up that batted Brady pass. Michael Jordan’s Tar Heels will forever beat Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas in the 1982 NCAA championship game.

This year, unfortunately, March Madness took on a new meaning. Instead of incessant banter about brackets, there is scary talk of body bags and makeshift morgues.

But now more than ever we all need sports as an escape from the stresses of everyday life.

I drove by one of the Quincy courts and it was barren and depressing. It reminded me of a five-week journey I once took across Siberia.

I missed basketball and out of sheer boredom I went home and re-edited a Celtics game that I photographed earlier in the season. What exactly was it that I miss about basketball anyway? Was it the competition, the teamwork, the athleticism?


I was like a scientist looking through a microscope for clues. I finally settled on a frame of a dunk by a little-known Celtics sub named Vincent Poirier, a native of France.

I am not a fan of the dunk, because if you are 7 feet tall, and you can place a ball in a cylinder that is 10 feet high, that is not a great achievement. I enlarged just a portion of a freeze frame of Poirier’s enthusiastic slam, and there was a word tattooed on his hand. It was the answer in the search for what basketball means to so many of us.

“Happiness,” it said.

Vincent Poirier is in his first season with the Celtics.
Vincent Poirier is in his first season with the Celtics.Stan Grossfeld/ Globe Staff

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at stanley.grossfeld@globe.com.