By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back, and Forth: Bouncing around those moments of meaning

Hoops is my hobby, and I plan to keep weaving as long as I can. After a long time away, I’ve gotten back into playing against other guys — competing, sometimes.

No matter what happens between the lines of the court, it always connects me to life itself. A guy I’m regularly joining on the court is an exquisitely good passer, and connecting with him reminds me of the allegorical aspect of basketball: Things happen fast, and you must find the happy combination between what you’re used to and what you spontaneously anticipate.

Two years ago in this space, I wrote about my countywide “basketball tour.” With pandemic rules and concerns still in place, but facing the wish and need to get in some hoops, I made weekly visits to outdoor courts in McMinnville, Lafayette, Carlton, Sheridan, Dayton, and Amity. It was fun, but it was missing one thing: people. In 21 years in Hood River, I played three mornings a week, but we had to quit when the pandemic hit. (I’ll play morning ball in Hood River on Sept. 8 with my son, a long-time regular; it will feel good to return to that tradition after 3 1/2 years.)

Settling into McMinnville a year later, my search for a game gained ground with that “tour.”

By September 2021, I was able to play inside for the first time in a year and a half, and I tested the waters with pickup games at the McMinnville Community Center, getting to know a nice group of guys in once- and sometimes twice-weekly action. I was creaky, to put it mildly, and the kinks are still coming out, but it helped fill a need I had become accustomed to in every stage of my life — high school pickup games at the YMCA, freshman intramurals in college, learning the box out and pick-and-roll as a young adult living in Dallas and Molalla.

I even played regular ball the summer I spent on a kibbutz in Israel (a hoops-crazy country). Years later in Port Townsend, it was frequent Sunday morning games at the rec center and then six years of “morning ball,” 6 a.m. three days a week, that set fast my passion for the game.

Played in close quarters, hoops can be a personal experience, almost conversational. Chatter is sometimes continual (trash talking and arguing and more) and it is possible to quickly get to know the people you play with, at least on a basic level. I think the social aspect of the game is a big reason I have always loved it.

And I think the fondness I have for basketball was forever etched by a golden moment of playing at age 21. It was at Linfield College in June 1980, on my final day of classes as a senior. I had completed the “defense” of my flimsy political science seminar paper, something about Congressional voting records on issues affecting the state of Israel. It was the final test of my final class as a college student.

The stress and academic exertion — if, in my case, you could call it that — was finally over and in a nearly ecstatic state I descended the stairs of Riley Hall (now Riley Center) from the classrooms located above the beloved old gymnasium. Reaching the lobby and looking around for some way to celebrate, some means of release, I heard the familiar sound from the gym and found two friends shooting around. I immediately picked up the ball and tossed a shot. Did it go in? No idea, but shooting hoops was that pivotal moment, the end of one thing and the beginning of another, and the beautiful physical activity that tied them together.

Shooting baskets was the first thing I did in that turning point moment of entering adulthood.

I recall getting a bit winded and working up a minor sweat before leaving the gym. I probably was headed downtown to my job at Nick’s Italian Cafe (another wonderful Linfield-era memory for me) just overjoyed to have the schoolwork behind me.

I’ve been lucky enough to get back to playing basketball at Linfield. This year, I was invited to join the guys who have had a noon game going for years. It’s been a good source of exercise and community for me, an opportunity I truly appreciate, to be back on campus again, playing hoops — albeit in a different gym. Riley was renovated in 1993 and the Ted Wilson gym constructed. It’s still a thrill to get in a run on that beautiful Wildcat floor.

Ironically, I do not recall ever playing basketball as a student at Linfield other than that final day of school in June 1980. I was not as into it, but it means a great deal to look back on that moment. These days, after an hour of three-on-three, I collect my bag and head back to my car, often passing students in the hallway or on the sidewalk, and think of that end-note basketball shoot-around in Riley.

I value the meaning of that moment in 1980, but wish I had better corralled the details. (Who were those guys I shot around with?)

Funny thing about those experiences: You have the structure of the memory and a few of the details, and 43 years after it happens you wish you had consciously focused to better retain more of it. And how does one, in the moment, consciously confer significance on what might become an indelible experience? Maybe it’s not even possible. Maybe any memory must be considered a luxury.

This week, students are coming back to Linfield or arriving for the first time. Who knows what the students I see in and around the Wilson gym will take away from their time on campus. I wonder if they realize that a single, unanticipated experience at school might make a difference in their lives.

I expect some may find that in addition to the athletic and academic pursuits that fill their months, if not years, they encounter a brief meaningful moment, one that they might not realize has meaning until years later. A memory is a different phenomenon than merely looking back.

Contact Kirby Neumann-Rea at or 503-687-1291.