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Basketball is nothing without a net

One of the most rewarding sounds in sports is the whistle of a basketball that snaps the net to a perfect rustle.

Remove the net and all that’s left is the unsatisfying silence of a bullet pushing air molecules around as it sails through the rim. Did it even happen? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

That’s why Anibal Amador, a 55-year-old former Manhattan real estate agent, regularly taps into his own pocket to buy brand-new nets for playground rims. The city doesn’t provide nets for the most part, but anyone who’s played even a single Hustle game knows that the muffled silence of a bullet drifting through a netless ledge transforms even the most perfectly executed shot. into an aerial balloon.

“Without the nets, it’s just not good,” Amador said, pointing to one of the edges he hugged at St. Vartan Park, a medium-sized playground at the entrance to the Queens Tunnel. -Midtown on 36th Street. “Nobody prefers to play this way.”

So, with the help of a stepladder he brings from his apartment, Amador attaches the nets to the rims of a few selected playgrounds – mainly the ones he likes to play – near his home in Murray Hill. It adorned rims on 36th Street, on a playground on 26th Street East and another near Bellevue Hospital. He says he’s been doing this for about three years.

Amador’s small civic gesture is one of many small acts of selflessness that tend to go unnoticed while helping to maintain a small measure of the quality of life in a crowded city where basketball mythology is a major factor. history of the city.

Recently, a group of players in St. Vartan’s Park waited patiently for Amador, carefully balanced at the top of his ladder, to finish attaching the nets to the clips under the rims before wiping the back panel with a rag.

When he was done, they applauded.

“It’s much better for everyone with the nets,” Amador said, beaming a big smile.

The New York City Department of Parks operates 1,800 basketball courts in the five boroughs, where some of the best games in history have been staged without a single fan watching. That doesn’t even count schoolyards, which are maintained by the Department of Education and individual schools, or courts which are overseen by the New York City Housing Authority.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the city demolished more than 2,100 rims around the city to discourage people from gathering in groups. A spokesperson for the Parks Department said all rims, which were down from April to July 2020, have been returned. But keeping netting on all rims in all parks is not an option, so the city doesn’t even try. Wear and tear, removal and vandalism are just too much to deal with.

“I get it,” Amador said, “because there are so many parks everywhere that they should be putting up nets all the time. That’s where I come in.

Originally from Rio Piedras in Puerto Rico, Amador moved to New York City 27 years ago, working in real estate until recently. He’s looking to get into something else, but in the meantime he plays basketball two or three times a week and replaces the nets at his favorite courts as needed, roughly every nine weeks.

“The amount of play these parks are getting is amazing,” he said. “It’s a lot and the nets really don’t last.”

Across the city, some rims jut out into space without a string. Some have mosquito nets, whether purchased and tied by civic-minded individuals like Amador, or provided by a school, a generous PE teacher, or other anonymous donor.

An unscientific investigation of a handful of the city’s playgrounds revealed an arbitrary pattern in the nets: some courts have it, and others don’t.

At the Northern Playground in Jackson Heights, Queens, there were no nets. But around the corner from Louis Armstrong College, pristine white nets hung from bright orange edges protruding from transparent panels.

At the legendary Holcombe Rucker Park at 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Manhattan, one rim had a solid white net, but at the other end of the court a remnant of a scattered and decrepit net hung sadly below, awaiting a replacement in time for the world famous summer league there.

In the Bronx, at the corner of 167th Street and Southern Boulevard, Clarence Williams, 50, presented his cute jump shot at Field Of Dreams Park, where the ground surface is smooth and well painted, but the rims are bare .

“I don’t mind,” Williams said. “There is a park a few more blocks with netting. If I really need it, I can go. But come on, you can tell if the ball goes in.

A little further south, at St. Mary’s Park in Mott Haven, several sparkling courts with crisp lines and sturdy panels were fitted with netting. Others don’t.

But in St. Vartan’s Park, Amador has made sure every good shot is a splash through the feathered nets he buys on the internet for around $ 10 apiece. When he set up those nets last month, one of the regular players gave Amador $ 20 to help cover the costs.

The player, who asked to be identified only as Nathan as he sometimes plays during office hours, was amazed that someone was so generous with their money and time.

“I thought he was working for the city,” Nathan said. “He was very meticulous. And then he pulls out a long brush and wipes the panels. I’ve never seen this before.

Amador says he enjoys providing the service just because he loves basketball so much, and beamed when asked if he had a nickname.

“Maybe I was thinking of Net Changer,” he said.

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