Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle Staff

PITTSFIELD

Driving to Adams the other night, trying to think of the best Christmas present I ever got.

I don’t mean spiritually. There were a number of good things that happened to me or a family member around the holidays. I mean what present, over the course of my life, do I consider the best I ever got?

A couple come to mind. When I was about five, I got a book about dinosaurs that certainly changed my life. I got a bicycle when I was maybe 10 or 11. That immediately made me much more mobile. When I was in my late 20s, I got a very cool leather jacket that I wore for years.

But I think the best gift was one that was fun and very unexpected. In my first year at Northeastern University, I got, from my father, an authentic NBA basketball.

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Let me explain one thing first. This was the late 1970s or the early 1980s. before the NBA understood marketing. An actual ball made for use in the NBA was a hard thing to find. I certainly don’t recall ever seeing any in sporting goods or department stores in Berkshire County. I don’t recall how my father got it. He was a big catalog guy, so I’m guessing he went that route.

Also NBA balls were distinctive. The rubber grooves between the leather panels were much wider than with ordinary balls. And, of course, there were the letters "NBA" stamped on it. It was cool to look at and very cool to play with.

So I brought the ball back with me to NU. It was an immediate hit. At Northeastern, there was always -- and I mean always -- a couple games going on at Cabot Gym. And like most places, the center court games were the most competitive. I got into one or two pre-NBA ball, but as soon as the better players saw my ball, I started getting picked a lot more. I wasn’t terrible, but until these guys got a load of my ball, I just wasn’t known.

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But the down side of my new ball was that everybody and their brother wanted it. Some guys offered to buy it. A lot of guys tried to steal it. No one was successful, because after the first time, I or one of my friends kept an eye on it.

We ran into one minor issue once. A lot of NBA teams used the gym at Boston State to practice when they came to play the Celtics. And there was no security -- an interested party could just go into the gym and watch. Boston State was just up the street on Huntington Avenue from NU, so sometimes we’d play there. One afternoon, the L.A. Clippers were practicing. So we waited. But at one point, a trainer saw my ball. He came over and wanted to examine it, thinking, I had grabbed it from the Clippers’ stash. All their balls had L.A.C. in magic marker on them, so he calmed down. But it was kind of a validation that I had a "real" NBA ball.

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Things went great until the summer. Then, the indoor games became the outdoor games. And within maybe two months, the ball got really scuffed up from playing on tarmac or cement. It started to look as beat up as a regular ball. I had it up until about nine or 10 years ago, when I left it after a pickup game in Great Barrington. It probably deserved better, but it had become just a ball by then.

Derek Gentile is an Eagle staffer. He can be reached at dgentile@berkshireeagle.com or followed on Twitter, @DerekGentile.