Musings on a basketball rolling downhill


I was driving down Lake Avenue yesterday morning when I noticed a kid, maybe 7 or 8 years old, who – in my opinion – had just intentionally chucked an old basketball down the hill from about Fifth Street.

For a brief moment, the ball and I were traveling side-by-side (the ball, unfortunately, going against traffic in the uphill lane). When I stopped at the four-way stop at Fourth Street, the ball, of course, kept on going. I glanced in my rear-view mirror and saw the kid jumping up and down – again, I think in joy at watching the thing sail downhill, and not in protest of an unfortunate lesson in physics and topography.

Meanwhile, the ball kept on going, gaining speed, caroming off the curb now and then. I think it might have briefly gone up on the sidewalk around Second Street, near the Minnesota Teen Challenge building. It caused some uphill vehicle traffic to get a bit squirrely around First Street, and then I lost sight of it momentarily because of the slope of the hill.

Then it appeared again down at the corner of Lake and Superior, still rolling. It made it perhaps 50 feet up the incline toward the I-35 overpass, then rolled back down and settled in the gutter near the Electric Fetus. By that time I was turning left on to Superior Street, and I impulsively stopped the car and scooped up the well-worn, well-traveled basketball (seen in the photo with this post).

A few things that popped into my mind afterward:

  1. I’m assuming that losing basketballs, soccer balls, volleyballs and other spherical objects is just part of life on the Hillside. I wonder if Grant and Nettleton schools get a few extra bucks in their playground equipment budget to account for it. Probably not, but they ought to.
  2. The whole incident – if the kid did in fact toss the ball downhill on purpose – kind of reminds me of a modern-day Paddle-to-the-Sea, one of my favorite kids’ books, by the awesomely named Holling C. Holling.
    Now, this kid did not carve a special message into the ball, but the sentiment – setting something free, just to see where it might go – is the same. I kind of feel bad for interrupting its journey, but then again maybe I am part of the journey – and, as in the book, I have some role to play in sending it on. Which leads me to…
  3. What should I do with a worn, grimy but still-holding-air basketball? I have no idea where that kid lives, and putting it in a corner of my garage seems like an ignoble end.



about 15 years ago

I'd put it back in the kid's yard -- under darkness, of course, to add appropriate mystery. Not only would it be cool to have it reappear overnight, I've found that kids who set something free impulsively like that sometimes get liberator remorse.  If he really did want it to go, he could just drop it all over again.

When you drop it off, you could write a little first-person travelogue for it and leave it with the ball, so the kid knows where it went.


about 15 years ago

I remember playing a game of croquet in Cascade Park years ago and watching a ball leave the course and taking a trip down 2nd Ave West, the croqueter running after, his mallet still in hand swinging wildly.  It was a great scene.  He did eventually catch up to it thanks to curbs.

Paul Lundgren

about 15 years ago

Kids sometimes do the same thing with a bowling ball. Because that's more dangerous, it's also more fun ... in a world without consequences.


about 15 years ago

We were walking up 16th Ave E a couple years ago, and a basketball came rolling down the hill at us. Nobody around, we checked the courts at Endion Park, nobody there. We looked for kids as we walked the rest of the way up the hill. Nobody. So the ball wanted to come home with us, I guess.

Somewhat related and much stupider, when I was in High School in Omaha, waiting for the bus one morning, a kid rolled an old tire down the street. It was only about 2 blocks down the hill, but it caused quite a bit of chaos on a relatively busy 2-lane street with cars trying to avoid hitting or being hit by the tire.

If you drive by that spot every day, you could look for that kid, then go uphill from him and release the ball so he's sure to see it. That would be cool if he thought it went all the way around the world.

Barrett Chase

about 15 years ago

Paul beat me to this comment, but I was going to say that I actually have a bowling ball we found in the location where that basketball ended up. The thought that some dumbass actually rolled it down the hill is kind of scary. 

If I had that basketball, I'd probably just bring it to the courts on Lake and just chuck it over the fence.


about 15 years ago

this makes me think of the Lake Ave. Luge project. Close it down for an afternoon and run and urban luge. C'mon you know you've wanted to do it. ... It'd be great way to celebrate winter and get PR for the city.

Don Ness

about 15 years ago

One of the many unique skills that you learn growing up in the hillside is how to retrieve a baseball rolling away from you down the hill.  The key is to get at least one stride in front of the ball and then stick your foot in the path to block progress.

Potential disaster and ridicule came to those who would either 1) make the stop attempt too early, 2) try to pick it up with your hand, or 3) attempt to stop the ball by stepping ON the rolling ball.

I only saw #3 once, but it resulted in the most devastating rolled ankle, road rash, tumble down the avenue falls I have ever seen.  To make matters worse, the ball continued down the hill in mockery of the attempt.

You don't see nine year old boys sprinting down the hillside after a ball any more - that used to be a pretty common sight.

ben boylan

about 15 years ago

playstation 3 is the new ball.


about 15 years ago

I think the kid was trying to put it out to sea.  I say you write your name and address on it and drop kick it off the lift bridge and see if it comes back.


about 15 years ago

I don't have much to add other than it is posts like these that keeps me coming back to PDD.


about 15 years ago

We don't have this problem in the awesome city of Superior.


about 15 years ago

When I was a kid, it was tennis balls accidentally hit over the fence of the courts by the Cook County Court House in Grand Marais.


about 15 years ago

I don't know if it is urban myth, but I have heard that, in the area below Enger, there is an illegal tire cemetery, and that kids years back would harvest these tires and light them on fire, to watch them roll down hill at night. I lived in much more civilized part of town back then.


about 15 years ago

On a quiet, sunny Sunday morning about 5 years ago I was raced by a lone car tire (on a rim, non-flaming) down Lake Ave. The tire won and just kinda disappeared from my sight. I recall saying out loud, "Well there's something you don't see every day..." For me, it was a Perfect Duluth Day.


about 15 years ago


about 15 years ago

I was on the bus when a tire from a car went by on 6th avenue east.


about 15 years ago

I saw this happen once, very accidentally, from a ball that made it out of the courts at lake and third that Barrett mentioned.  One thing that impressed me was that although I had to wait for a light or two, we actually got to Superior street about the same time, it must have gotten stuck on something ... or something.  


Paddle to the Sea was one of my favorite educational movies as a kid.  I still love that story and once took a trip out to Toronto to see a friend and planned it in such a way that I would collect water from each of the great lakes on my way.  I still have the water, haven't figured out what to do with it yet, actually.  

I wonder if someone could ever re-make that book into a movie today with the updates to the environment, etc fit into it?  A lot has changed, some better, some worse, but much the same.  This would be perfect year for it too, being the 50th anniversary of the seaway and all.  Fat chance though, I bet Disney has those rights locked up tighter than a (insert metaphor/simile here)


about 15 years ago

I heard a dumbass bragging about rolling a bowling ball down Lake Avenue.

Todd Gremmels

about 15 years ago

I once skiied down Lake Avenue.



about 12 years ago

I was once in a car with other fellow dumb arses that let one of the Incline Station's balls down Second Avenue. Let's just say youth teaches many lessons and this one taught me many ... one being mortality and how friggin lucky we were ... (not so much for the WI car parked where the ball blew through its windshield.)

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