Flashlight & A Biscuit, No. 11: Nothing but net

On the Zen of shooting hoops ... and how one remote basket changed sports forever.

Welcome to Flashlight & A Biscuit, my Southern sports/culture/food offshoot of my work at Yahoo Sports. Thanks for reading, and why not subscribe below? It’s free and all.

Grottoes, Virginia is a tiny town in the hills somewhere north of Charlottesville, hard up against Shenandoah National Park and best known for hosting the garish Grand Caverns, a tricked-up “show cave” that’s been wowing the tourists since 1806.

But there’s something else there in Grottoes: a basketball goal nailed up on a telephone pole. It’s been up there since the ‘70s, ever since a man named Jack wanted to keep his only son occupied during the long days Jack worked at a local GE plant. There are bears in the woods beyond Jack’s property, you see; this wasn’t the kind of place you wanted a young boy to be wandering.

So the boy shot, and shot, and shot some more. And when the boy grew into a man, he brought his own son to shoot on Jack’s goal. As the story goes, the moment the family car rolled up to Grandma’s house — Jack having passed on when the grandson was just two — the boy would sprint from the car straight to the hoop, and would shoot there, day after day, hour after hour.

The grandson learned a few things shooting on that hoop. He learned to shoot with absolute precision; the wobbly backboard would kick the ball at unexpected angles, and the steel rim had zero give. The area around the basket was pockmarked with rocks and tire tracks. You didn’t make baskets, you earned them.

And still, the grandson shot and kept on shooting. There’s a moral to this little tale, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Like you, I’ve had pretty much enough of this whole quarantine lockdown business — yeah, I’m in Georgia, but let’s just say I’m not rushing to party on any lakes just yet — and I’ve been trying to come up with ways to stay sane in my own four walls … or just outside them. So, like those kids in Grottoes, I’ve started shooting baskets again.

I can’t paint like Picasso. I can’t sing like Aretha, or play the guitar like Prince. But on a good day, with a good release and a good arc, I can rainbow a shot from three-point range that hits the net with that hard chok! that’s one of the sweetest sounds in sports.

One hundred shots a day. That’s what I take, out in my driveway, and it’s become something of a Zen release for me. No layups, just jumpers. I don’t wear headphones, I don’t play music, it’s just me and the ball and the net. It’s as mindful as you can get, and every time I finish, there’s a serenity that, strangely, I never seem to get from scrolling Twitter.

(Let’s be clear here: I suck. This ain’t Kobe reeling off net-snappers. I miss so many shots in so many spectacular ways. Balls bouncing into trash cans or caroming off cars or rolling down hills … you name the humiliating miss, and I’ll show you a bunch of ‘em every 100 shots. But that, of course, is not the point.)

We’ve probably all had enough of other people telling us what to do and think over the last three months, but if I could make a humble recommendation, I’d say: go shoot baskets. Or, if that’s not your jam, find something similar that gets you out of your own head. Day after day, bounce after bounce, shot after shot, the mind expands just like the rim seems to.

Oh, and as for that kid shooting at that basket in Grottoes? Maybe there’s something to the value of repetition after all, because he grew up to become the sweetest shooter in NBA history, fella by the name of Steph:

Keep shooting, friends.

(Sources: ESPN, Grand Caverns. Photo by me, in St. George Island, Fla.)

Street Art of the Week

Until I start getting back into the bars, breweries and bbq joints I love and start snapping some new menu pics, I’ll dig into my phone archives and find some street art. Here’s one from Montgomery, Alabama, not far from where Rosa Parks decided she didn’t feel like sitting in the back of the bus.


Here’s what I dug this week …

Metallica, “Blackened 2020”: Sure, this deviates from the “Southern culture” organizing principle here, but it’s Metallica, man. I love how inventive people have been getting during the quarantine, particularly musicians composing entire songs while separated. This here’s a chill version of an old classic.

As always, here’s the running F&AB playlist to keep up with what’s new:

Da 5 Bloods (Netflix): Four Vietnam veterans return to the jungle to find something(s) they left behind. I don’t want to spoil any more than that for you, except to say that 1. this is a hell of a ride and a new perspective on an often-told story, and 2. this is a career peak for Spike Lee. Don’t miss it.

“Democracy Of Speed” (Bitter Southerner): Not far from the Grottoes in Central Virginia is the Eastside Speedway, a drag strip dating back generations. This essay and collection of photos shows the track’s multiracial crowd, joined by a love of speed. Man, I hope these places safely open up again soon.

Last Call

Ah, nothing like a round of golf in South Carolina … the camaraderie, the beer cart, the gigantic gators fighting in the middle of the fairway …

As a longtime golf journalist and someone always interested in growing the game, I believe setting a couple angry alligators loose at every PGA Tour event would be a spectacular way to increase viewership.

That’ll do it for this week. Shoot from a little farther than you’re comfortable with, and we’ll catch you back here next week. Peace!


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