Saturday, July 14, 2007

When pick-up gets you down

It's Saturday afternoon. You finally have some free time, and you feel like playing some pick-up. The weather's pretty nice outside -- sunny with a light breeze. You head over to a local outside basketball court, only to find the court is completely dominated with little kids. There are no older kids or adults in sight. You remain positive that you'll find somewhere to play; it's too nice of a day not to hoop. Maybe there's some people playing inside, you figure, so checking your gym is the next logical step. You get there and see all of the people waiting on the wall and floor, but there is a five on five game going on and plenty of time to wait.

After seeing some people you know and have played with before, you finally get on the court after waiting for no less than 45 minutes. But it's the worth the wait, and you're finally about to start playing. About time.

Your game starts. You know three of the guys on your team, but the fourth is someone you've never seen play before. Shouldn't matter, you say to yourself. Right as the game begins, one of your teammates grabs a long rebound off of a missed three by the other team, and your team races down the floor on a three-on-one fast break. Should be an easy bucket, right? Your teammate that you don't know (I'll refer to him as 'mystery man') grabs the outlet pass and dribbles right at the only defender back for the other team, not even considering a pass to one of the other two teammates on the break. The mystery man completely blows an out-of-control layup attempt. You run back on defense, hoping that maybe that single play was just a one time thing and wouldn't happen again.

After several more awful shot selections, horrible turnovers on And1 pass attempts, and even more wild decisions on the court, your team loses and you wonder if today actually really wasn't such a good day for basketball after all.

Other players around the gym start leaving as the day wears on, but you're just waiting to get back on the court for at least one more game. Somehow, to your chagrin, you end up on the same team when you get back on the court with guess who -- mystery man. Your team loses again, and everyone clears out of the gym. Great.


Just another day in the world of pick-up basketball because, at some point, the above example has happened to everyone in one way or another. It may not be exactly the same for everyone, but every now and then pick-up games can be disappointing.

I love basketball, and I always will. Pick-up basketball can be one of the most enjoyable activities, but it really depends on the people you're playing with and against. There are so many different kinds of people who play basketball at your favorite outside court or gym, and no one really knows who he or she will end up playing with next.

Most of the time, hopefully, problems don't really occur, and everyone on the floor plays for a while and has a good time. But for people who regularly play pick-up, they have surely encountered some, if not most, of the following types of characters who somehow end up playing. Unfortunately, these guys usually end up on the same team as you:

- The Old Guy -- This guy is usually at least 50+ years old, and usually tries to cheat, too. He runs around the court setting illegal screens on defenders, but he always complains if things aren't going his way. Be careful when this guy is trying to box you out, because he will throw knees, elbows, and whatever else is needed to get you out of the way. He also may headbutt you "accidentally" at some point during the game. Be careful.

- Manu Ginobili, Jr. -- Ginobili Jr. usually figures that the best way to play is 100% at every single moment during the game. There's nothing wrong with that, except that he's always out of control, and he seemingly turns the ball over at every opportunity. He calls way too many fouls on the opposition, but he can't seem to ever admit that HE has actually ever committed a foul on anyone else. He always creates most of the contact when he's dribbling with his head down into three defenders.

- Only Offense -- This player, who somehow always seems to be on your team, only cares about shooting and makes no attempt to ever play a lick of defense. To put this in perspective, a mailbox could probably score two or three points on him. The other four guys on your team have to spend the whole game playing help defense to cover up his huge lack of defense as whoever he is supposed to be guarding always seems to be open. But don't let the guy you're guarding score either, or else Only Offense will say something like "Come on man, switch with me. I'll lock him down." Right...

- Stats McGee -- Stats always seem to know his box score stat-sheet after the game, even though it's just pick-up basketball and the most important stat is the win. He occasionally figures that he had close to a triple-double the last game, even though your game only went to twelve. Apparently he's either throwing the ball to himself for assists or stealing the ball from your teammates.

- Chris Berman -- Mr. Berman isn't necessarily a bad guy, but he always seems to be giving nicknames to everyone on the court since he's probably bad at remembering names. (I'm usually Steve Kerr, JJ Redick, or Steve Blake, but that's better than Jon Koncak.) If you're a big white guy who just stands under the basket, you'll probably be tagged as Greg Ostertag. If you do nothing but shoot threes and hit a few, you'll assuredly be named Peja Stojakovic or Ray Allen. And if you run around punching everyone in the face and acting like a jerk, he'll call you Ron Artest.

- SportsCenter -- SC always tries to make the most difficult play as if he's trying to make the Top 10 list on ESPN's SportsCenter. If there's a seemingly easy layup, he may try something fancy and completely blow the bucket. Try not to be surprised when this guy gets on you if you happen to miss an open jumper.

- No Conscience -- Apparently a fan of the old "nothing but net" McDonald's commercials with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, this player has never found a place on the floor that he can't shoot from. Frequently, this guy can't really shoot that well and his defenders will play off of him, but that won't stop him from heaving threes from four feet behind the three-point line. Don't question his shot selection, though, or you may never touch the ball again.

- Steve Javie, Jr. -- Occasionally, I'll play with Javie Jr., who is a guy who probably isn't very good at basketball. Unfortunately, he's always in the middle of every argument or disagreement on the court. If someone calls a foul or anything, Javie Jr. claims to know the rule book up and down, even though he's frequently way off and is very confused.

- Ivan Drago -- There's usually some huge, Russian-looking guy in the gym who somehow gets on the floor, plays hard, and says basically nothing to anyone during the day. At any point during the game where he gets a block, you fight back the urge to yell "SOVIET BLOC" as loud as you can in your Gus Johnson voice. (OK, maybe that's just me.)

- Stephen A. -- The individual who is probably the most annoying of all the guys you play with would have to be Stephen A. He wants to complain and whine about every single call about anything and everything that takes place on the court. And if you happen to disagree with him over a call or two, be prepared for him to be enemies with you for the rest of the day. He seems to ruin more games than any awful basketball player ever could.


There are probably even more than I am missing in my above list, but these are just some of the types of guys I've played with and encountered over my years of playing basketball.

Everyone has flaws on the court, but as long as people play hard, share the ball, and are willing to hustle as much as they can while they're on the court, pick-up basketball games end up being rewarding to everyone involved.

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