By Dom Cioffi
It was May 11, 1980, and the Philadelphia 76ers were playing the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA Championship. The Sixers were down two games to one heading into the crucial fourth game.
With 7 minutes and 35 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, one of the most charismatic and entertaining basketball players in history, broke from his defender on the right side of the court and drove baseline toward the basket.
In an instant, he leapt into the air and floated for what seemed like an unreasonable amount of time. His body moved behind the backboard, and just when you thought he was going to come down, his right arm stretched out and with a quick flip of his wrist, he spun the ball upwards off the backboard from the opposite side. The ball glanced off the glass and then jumped into the basket.
In that 3-second moment, Dr. J created one of the most iconic moments in NBA history. To this day, there isn’t a serious basketball player in the world who hasn’t marveled at that shot or tried to recreate it on their own.
I can’t remember watching that moment unfold, but given my age (13 years old), my love of basketball, and my devotion to the Lakers, I have to believe I was sitting in front of my television taking it all in as the events transpired.
If I did witness that epic moment, I have little doubt that I spent the remainder of the game and much of the rest of that day trying to recreate Dr J’s shot on my Nerf Hoop.
My Nerf Hoop was one of my most prized possessions as a kid. The puff ball accompanied by a small plastic rim with metal clamp for a door and flimsy net with a cardboard backboard couldn’t have cost more than $10 back in the early ‘80s. I had one growing up, one in college, and one in my first apartment. I even hung one in the first home I purchased and had one in the office of my first serious job.
Shooting hoops indoors was something I did to relax. I also liked the challenge of throwing a ball through a target. In fact, throughout my entire life, this has been a consistent theme. I don’t care if I’m at a cookout, a wedding, the beach, or in a friend’s garage, I’m likely scanning the area for something to throw at a target.
If you were going to come over to my house as a kid, there was a huge chance I was going to rope you into a game of Nerf horse. I would then do everything in my power to show you how dominate I was at the game, resorting to a variety of trick shots that took months to figure out.
When my son was young enough to understand the concept of basketball, I bought him a Nerf Hoop and placed it in our playroom above the garage. For years, it was his go-to activity whether he had friends over or not. (As I’m sitting here writing this column, I can actually hear him jumping around in that same room – the only difference being that his 6’2”, 180-pound frame makes a lot more noise than it used to.)
Nowadays, the concept of the Nerf Hoop has been expanded with professional looking mini hoops that utilize hard plastic backboards and small leather balls that recreate the game of basketball on a miniature level. I bought three of these as soon as they came out, placing one in our garage, one in our playroom, and one for my office just above the garbage pail.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a crumpled piece of paper or a puff ball, I still get a thrill out of shooting a basket from across the room. Back when the workplace was where we went each weekday, I would occasionally throw a ball to someone who came into my office and then coerce them into trying to make a basket. The results were usually less than stellar but occasionally someone would show some legitimate form and on a rare occurrence, they might even admit to having their own Nerf Hoop back in the day.
This week’s feature, “Licorice Pizza,” written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson ( “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “There Will Be Blood”) is a coming-of-age film about two “kids” growing up in California during the early 1970s. But before you scoff at the adolescent theme, let me assure you that this is a brilliantly made motion picture.
The two lead characters are likely no one you’ve ever heard of: Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman — both being handpicked by Anderson because they fit the exact model of what he was looking for. I guarantee you that you’ll fall for both.
Check this one out if you feel like being in the 1970s for a couple hours or if you just want to revisit the wonderment of being a teenager.
An endearingly nostalgic “B+” for “Licorice Pizza,” available at theaters everywhere.
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.