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One of the most enjoyable sounds in sports is the hiss of a basketball as it snaps the net with one perfect swing.
Take the net off and all that’s left is the unsatisfactory silence of a ball pushing air molecules around as it sails through the edge. Did it even go through? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
That’s why Anibal Amador, a 55-year-old former real estate agent from Manhattan, regularly digs into his own pocket to buy brand new nets for playground rims. Nets usually don’t exist in the city, but anyone who has even played hustle once knows that the muffled silence of a ball drifting through a netless edge can turn even a perfectly executed shot into a ball of air.
“It’s just not good without the nets,” said Amador, pointing to one of the edges he has wrapped around in St. Vartan Park, a medium-sized playground at the entrance to the Queens Midtown Tunnel on 36th Street. “Nobody prefers to play like that.”
For example, Amador uses a stepladder that he brings from his apartment to fasten the nets to the edges of some selected playgrounds – mostly where he likes to play – near his home in Murray Hill. He’s decorated rims on 36th Street, in a playground on East 26th Street, and another near Bellevue Hospital. He says he’s been doing this for about three years.
Amador’s little civic gesture is one of many small acts of altruism that tend to go unnoticed but help maintain a small level of quality of life in a crowded city where playground basketball mythology is a matter of city history.
Recently a group of players waited patiently in St. Vartan’s Park while Amador, carefully balanced on his ladder, attached the nets to the clips under the edges before wiping the back wall with a rag.
When he finished, they cheered.
“It’s much better for everyone with the nets,” said Amador with a big smile.
The New York City Parks Department has 1,800 basketball courts in the five boroughs that have played some of the best games in history without an audience. That doesn’t even include the schoolyards run by the Department of Education and schools, or the courts run by the New York Housing Authority.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the city dismantled more than 2,100 rims across the city to keep people from gathering in groups. A Parks Department spokesman said all rims that failed April through July 2020 have been returned. But keeping nets on all rims in all parks isn’t feasible, so the city doesn’t even try. Wear and tear, dismantling and vandalism are just too much to keep up with.
“I get it,” said Amador, “because there are so many parks everywhere that you would have to put up nets all the time. That’s where I come in. “
Originally from Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, Amador moved to New York 27 years ago and worked in the real estate industry until recently. He would like to do something different, but now plays basketball two to three times a week and changes the nets at his favorite places if necessary, about every nine weeks.
“The amount of play these parks are getting is surprising,” he said. “It’s a lot and the nets really don’t hold up.”
Across the city, some rims protrude unadorned into space. Some have nets, whether they were bought and fastened by a middle-class person like Amador, or provided by a school, a generous PE teacher, or some other anonymous donor.
An unscientific study of a handful of urban playgrounds revealed an arbitrary pattern of nets: some courts have them, some don’t.
There were no nets in the Northern Playground in Jackson Heights, Queens. But around the corner from Louis Armstrong Middle School hung pristine white nets of bright orange borders protruding from clear back walls.
In the legendary Holcombe Rucker Park on 155th Street and on Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Manhattan, a rim had a sturdy white net, but at the other end of the square a shabby remnant of a net hung sadly waiting for a timely replacement for the world famous summer league there .
In the Bronx, on the corner of 167th Street and Southern Boulevard, Clarence Williams, 50, presented his cute jump shot in Field Of Dreams Park, where the pitch surface is smooth and well painted but the rims are bare.
“I don’t mind,” said Williams. “There is a park with nets a few blocks away. If I really need them, I can go there. But come on, you can see if the ball goes in. “
A little further south in St. Mary’s Park in Mott Haven, there were several shiny plazas with clean lines and sturdy back walls with nets. Others don’t.
But at St. Vartan’s Park, Amador made sure that every good shot is a splash through the feathered nets he buys online for about $ 10 a piece. When he set up these nets last month, one of the regulars gave Amador $ 20 to cover the cost.
The player, who only wanted to be identified as Nathan because he sometimes plays during business hours, was amazed that someone was so generous with their money and time.
“I thought he worked for the city,” said Nathan. “He was very meticulous. And then he takes out a long brush and wipes the back panels. I’ve never seen that before. “
Amador says he enjoys offering the service simply because he loves basketball so much and beamed when asked if he had a nickname.
“Maybe I was thinking of the Net Changer,” he said.