A levelheaded approach is the only way to deal with life's unexpected little tilts


AS I ROLL down the road of life, whenever I spot a basketball goal I ask, "Is the rim level?"

A basketball goal with a crooked rim is a sign that things are slipping. Like a yard decorated with cars on cement blocks or a front porch adorned with washing machines, a slanting basketball rim is proof that proper standards are not being upheld.

That the guy who put that hoop up is not measuring up.

And so it was with some alarm that I gazed upon the basketball hoop I was installing on a playground in my neighborhood and saw that the rim was drooping.

This was not a slight slope, this was a major droop. The front of the rim was about an inch lower than the back. The drop-off reminded me of old geography book drawings of the continental shelf. When I climbed up a ladder and put a level on the rim, the bubble inside the level floated quickly to one side. This indicated that the rim was attached to the backboard pretty much the way Humphrey Bogart used to put his hat on his head, high in the back, low in the front.

Some people working with me tried to tell me that standards didn't matter. They tried to convince me that a playground basketball goal is supposed to have a few imperfections, a dent here, a nick there. It was a call to lower my hoop expectations, and I could not heed it, for two reasons.

First, I considered the source. The call was coming from my wife and two kids, who were tired of helping me attach the backboard and rim to a metal pole. The pole, a serious hunk of metal, had been planted in the ground a few days earlier by John and Frank, two serious pole sinkers. After assembling the backboard and rim, in the process mixing some old parts with some new ones, I had shanghaied my kids and wife into helping me. It was late in the day, the wind had shifted, and the warm

spring afternoon had become a bitter evening. My helpers were getting cold. As their body temperatures dropped, so did their standards. "It is OK," they told me, hoping I would concede that the rim-leveling job was over.

The second reason I had trouble lowering my hoop expectations was that I had become ego-involved in my work. That basketball rim wasn't mere metal, it was a statement about my competence, about what kind of mark I was going to leave on the landscape of life.

Eventually, I had to bow to the wishes of my freezing family. I folded up the ladder, left the rim at its jaunty angle and went home. But I couldn't live with the guilt. For several days after, I would walk past the basket, look at the crooked rim and feel awful.

I sought professional help. I dialed 1-800-558-5234 and talked to Doug in Wisconsin. He is a service representative for Huffy Sports, the company that made the basketball rim and backboard.

I gave Doug my model number and he talked me through my troubles. I could tell he had done this before. Doug told me to loosen up. Specifically, he told me to loosen a tensioning bolt that ran, on a diagonal, from the back of the rim into the backboard.

When putting the rim and backboard together, I had tightened this bolt and every bolt I could get a wrench on. I had done this because, like a character in one of my favorite A. A. Milne poems, "The Knight Whose Armor Didn't Squeak" -- I didn't want my basketball hoop to rattle.

Doug told me that instead of preventing rattles, by tightening this bolt on this model, I had lowered the front of the rim.

Following Doug's advice, I went back to the playground, got back on the ladder, and loosened that bolt.

It was a slow process, but eventually the rim assumed a level position.

But only temporarily. It was level one minute, but after getting hit by a basketball, it easily reverted to its old, droopy posture.

Once again I called Doug. Once again Doug listened. This time he told me to get back up on that ladder and look for evidence of missing pieces, pieces that might have fallen from the goal. Specifically, he told me to make sure that a part called a spacer that sits on a bolt at the back of the rim was still there. While I am nosing around the rim I should also, Doug said, make sure there is a still a nut at the end of that tensioning bolt. If the nut has fallen off, the rim will move around, he said.

So that is where I left things with my rim counselor, Doug.

The situation is somewhat unstable, but I am searching for missing parts and for answers.

Pub Date: 4/19/97

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