The grand athlete autograph experiment: Do our favorite stars still respond to fan mail?

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Ryan Hockensmith

ON A SWELTERING Sunday in July, a 14-year-old basketball superfan walks to a mailbox in central Connecticut. He holds 14 letters and fans them out like a poker hand, before pushing them through the mail slot. Some are addressed to his favorite NBA and WNBA players. Others, to his favorite coaches. All of them are written, by hand, with some words of encouragement, some questions about the basketball bubbles and one simple, final question: Can I have your autograph?

He approaches the mailbox with a general suspicion that this might all be a colossal waste of time. In a year in which the mail has somehow become a political issue, the boy doesn’t even know whether letters can penetrate the bubble, and his 14 notes are addressed to some of the biggest basketball stars in the world. Would any of the recipients even get the letter, let alone read it and then go out of their way to send a response? Yeah, this was a fun exercise, he thinks, but no way anybody bothers.

The boy, Bentley Baker, is a family friend of ours. He is a basketball junkie who came with

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