J.R. Ramos, 18, set his feet on the asphalt, basketball firmly in his hands.
Before the defender could rush over with a hand to his face, Ramos launched the ball at the hoop that was facing him and the street. “Swish!” his teammate said as the ball glided through. Neighbors watched from their front porch as music played in the background, and Ramos grinned before setting up the next play like it was Game 7 at Madison Square Garden instead of a street in the city of Amsterdam.
Scenes like this could become more and more rare in the city after the council passed a controversial ordinance two weeks ago effectively banning basketball being played in the street.
The ordinance, which was originally introduced by Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler, was seen as a way to prevent kids from being hit by cars while playing in the street.
According to the ordinance, playing basketball on or near city streets “presents a traffic hazard,” and “any basketball equipment located on any city street or sidewalk may be removed immediately by city workers.”
The fine for violating the ordinance is up to $250.
Mario Vargas has lived in Amsterdam for 13 years. Since his backyard isn’t paved and his driveway is too cracked and small for playing basketball, he takes out his basketball hoop at least twice a week and sets it facing the street, where people in the community like Ramos, who lives around the corner from him, can come and play.
Vargas explained that there are other issues in the city, such as dealing with abandoned properties, that should be dealt with before authorities crack down on basketball hoops in the street.
Beyond that, he didn’t understand where else local children were supposed to play.
“There’s nothing here for the children,” he said.
Justin Bonefont, 21, lives with Vargas and although he’s not related, considers Vargas like a father. Vargas and his wife, Casandra, also have their son, Mario Vargas Jr., 20, and their three adopted children, Donovin, 12, Angel, 9, and Brieanne, 13, all living with them at the house.
For the younger ones who like to play basketball, like Donovin, if the hoop in front of his driveway is eventually removed, he doesn’t feel that playing at one of the local parks with hoops is an option.
Bonefont and Vargas said it’s tough for the younger ones like Donovin to use the basketball courts at the park since a lot of the older kids don’t let the younger ones play, and sometimes people have to wait an hour for their turn. Bonefont said fights even break out over who gets to play on the courts.
Amsterdam police Detective Lt. Kurt Conroy said that since the ordinance is new, the police won’t be removing basketball hoops right away.
“As of right now, because it’s a new ordinance, there will be warnings issued to remove the hoops, and if people don’t comply, then the fines and seizure will commence,” he said.
Conroy said that right now, the Police Department won’t be ticketing people with basketball hoops unless someone calls in to complain. Whether the hoop is on a dead-end street or a busy thoroughfare, if someone calls in and says that the hoop is causing a disturbance in the neighborhood, police will respond to the call and investigate, and for now, provide a warning.
As July drew to a close, Conroy said there had been two complaints. One was ruled unfounded after responding officers found no one playing basketball. The other call involved a resident complaining of a basketball hoop in the street and the owner was advised of the ordinance and removed it.
The kids along Arnold Avenue and nearby streets often use Tammy Bottomley’s hoop for their basketball games.
Despite the ban, Bottomley has kept her hoop facing the street. Playing on the street is the only viable way to play because she shares the driveway with another tenant and the back yard is too small.
Her daughter, Alexis, 13, loves basketball. She currently plays in a summer recreation league.
“It’s become her life,” Bottomley said. “Now they want to take it away from my baby.”
Bottomley’s 10-year-old son, John, also likes to play.
Like Vargas, Bottomley doesn’t think that the parks are a safe place for younger kids to play. Older children take over the courts and kids like her son are sometimes teased and aren’t allowed to play.
“It honestly doesn’t make any sense,” said Kimberly Zuppardi, who lives across the street from Bottomley.
Her two sons, Hunter, 13, and Kolby Fifield, 12, play with the other kids on the block at Bottomley’s basketball hoop.
Zuppardi knows the kids who play in the neighborhood and watches them to make sure nothing goes wrong. Whenever a car comes through, the kids stop playing and move out of the way. They don’t cause any disturbances, she says.
Kolby is now more wary of playing basketball in the street after hearing about the ban. Although the hoop is not his family’s and therefore they won’t get ticketed, he is still uncomfortable about playing in the street like he used to.
On a warm summer day, he meets up with the kids on the block and after a while, they begin to throw a football in the street, trying their best to spiral it through the air.