Black Spray Painted Three Point Line


Ryan J. Pelton

2/14/20244 min read

I remember that night like it was yesterday. My dad said get a can of black spray paint from the garage. I entered the cluttered 1950s structure behind the house smelling of oil, gas, dryer sheets, and memories. A faux desk made of eight foot plywood housed the paint. I completed the mission and met dad in the driveway which ran all the way to the garage in the backyard.

Also housed on top of the garage was a rotting backboard and basketball rim. I’m not sure but I think my dad made the hoop with his bare hands. It too was made of plywood. Years later we upgraded to a plastic version with not much charm. I logged hundreds of hours on those hoops perhaps reaching the Malcolm Gladwell pinnacle of ten thousand. Hard to say.

I spent the first sixteen years of my life in the same house, and with the same hoop. A hoop my dad, mom, uncles, cousins, friends, enemies, and neighbors played on day and night. I once played in the rain with my best friend Jeff.

My dad hauled out a tape measure and the can of black spray paint and measured nineteen feet from the hoop. Give or take. He said if I wanted to play high school basketball I’d have to make three pointers. Nineteen feet was the official length of a high school three I was told. Not sure how he knew in those Pre-Google days, but he was a smart guy. Dad also liked to mention he played high school ball long before the three point line and was the only thing holding him back from the NBA.

I’m certain Dad not getting drafted had more to do with genetics and less because of the absence of a three point line. In fact, after further reflection, I’m certain the black-stripe-driveway-three-point-line adventure is because my dad was a prophet. He knew the Italian Gene Pool by which I came made the chances of breaking six foot slim. Papa Jack broke seventy two inches, my dad hovered around sixty eight. Uncle Danny broke the barrier, I still haven’t. My dad was right and the black three point line on the cement driveway would prove to be a lifeline in my basketball career.

I don’t remember if this was late elementary school or early middle school when the black line went on the ground. But I remember not having the strength to get a full size ball to the hoop. It took a double handed heave with skinny arms and skinny legs and improper form to see the ball hit rim. The backyard had a bright light burning for hours and hours of late night practices perfecting my three point game. Brick to the left the ball went into the grass dodging our yellow Labrador Daisy’s lunch. Brick to the right you’d hop the fence into the neighbors yard with the avocado tree.

Time went on and my arms and legs developed into a three point shooting machine. When feeling cocky I’d heave one from the porch a good five feet past the black stripe. I’d dribble to the hoop make a lay up, grab the rebound, and dribble out to the three point line and heave one in almost without looking. Swish. That sound. I’ve always wondered why my three point Long Beach backyard game didn’t translate into the high school game. I’m not saying I never made a three, or wasn’t a decent player despite the limitations of my Italian heritage. But making unguarded threes on Adderley Drive versus guarded threes at Artesia High was another story. Something about your local hoop made the game easy.

I’d spend summers, fall, winter, spring, and summer would come back around with more three point reps. The benefits of growing up in southern California. Middle school came and went. High school arrived and shooing threes was not a demanding chore compared to those early days of skinny arms. My dad would pass me balls and I’d shoot and shoot. He’d come out occasionally after the engineering job and shoot. Dad would roll up his dress shirt and bury shot after shot. He had much better form than me. Played a little college ball.

But I’ll never forget the black stripe and the fumes of spray paint. Those late nights with bugs swarming the outdoor light as I heaved three pointers and imagined being in the NBA Finals hitting a game winner. Those days were sweet days of wonder and wondering if I’d ever hit six foot and make a game winning three point shot. I still don’t know why I obsessed being six foot.

Those backyard days were also an arena of prayer. I call it prayer now, but wouldn’t have in the 80s and 90s. Every season of life happened in the Long Beach driveway. When a girl broke up with me I could shake it off with shooting hoops. During the dog days of summer before I had a car, I’d shoot hoops to fill the day. When homework was due and I had no desire to do it, I’d go to my backyard sanctuary. Say a payer. One coach in middle school said I needed to develop a left hand. So I spent an entire summer dribbling left handed in that driveway. When my parents were splitting up I could vent and think and breathe and pray and be still in those driveway hoop sessions.

The hoop on 5227 Adderley Drive became my hermitage.

I’m thankful for the prophetic insight of my dad to spray a black line on a driveway. He’ll never know how that day changed my life. I’m sure I share my love of basketball with my own kids because of the spray paint adventure. Just the other night we shot hoops late into the night.

I hope my kids will one day see this as prayer, too.