Until two years ago, nobody dreamed that the law might be interpreted as applying to driveway hoops. But then an offended citizen complained to the village board of trustees that these particular fixtures degraded the aesthetics of the community. The Village of Garden City Building Division agreed, and Peter Gall, the mayor at the time, hastily took down the basket that had loomed over his own driveway for a decade.
But hoop removal was the furthest thing from the mind of Michael Epter, then a freshman guard for the St. Paul's High varsity, who thinks of the goal in his family's driveway as "a nonliving part of me." The zoning law in question was originally intended to prevent the construction of hitching posts, and the Epters owned no horses. So when they received a letter saying that their basket had to be removed or they would be liable for a $250-per-day fine, Michael and his brother Larry, then a Villanova law student, drafted a petition asking for pole support and collected more than 1,000 signatures. The trustees decided not to force the issue.
In recent weeks driveway baskets have again become a hot topic in Garden City. When Michael, now 16 and a senior at St. Mary's Boys High, learned that the matter would be debated at a trustee's meeting on Oct. 4, he sprang into action, rounding up supporters. On meeting night, to Epter's surprise, two engineers and two lawyers emerged from the throng in the village hall and addressed the Garden City Fathers. The engineers argued that basketball poles do not constitute structures. The lawyers questioned the town's right to ban the hoops and declared that should Michael wish to pursue the matter in court, they would represent him pro bono. Unimpressed, the trustees voted 5-2 that front-yard baskets on poles had to go. Garden City Mayor Jack McGowan later called it a "beautification" issue and said he doesn't think a pole is "a pretty sight at all." He also said, "How many people read a petition they sign? I don't trust petitions."
Among those who object to the action are two former professional basketball stars, Dave DeBusschere and Bill Melchionni, both of whom live in Garden City. "If you drive down the street and see a few basketball hoops, it shows that it's a vibrant, healthy community," said DeBusschere, a member of two Knick NBA championship teams and the basketball Hall of Fame.
"It's absurd," adds Melchionni, a three-time ABA All-Star with the Nets and now a New York City investment banker. "I think Picasso would have found some beauty in a basketball pole."