Sunday, November 16, 2008

Who's Got Next??

For all of us non-professional athletes out there, the world of pickup games is where we find our home. But despite the multitude of options at our disposal, one sport will always reign supreme.

Baseball is a hell of a game, but try rounding up 15-16 other guys to join you on a random summer afternoon. Not happening...unless you happen to be reading this from 1963.

Football is always a possibility, but there's always that one guy who insists "Let's play tackle!" and ruins it for everybody else. Thanks, dude.

I guess there's hockey, but unless you're friends with either Wayne Campbell or Russ Tyler, you aint finding a decent game.

Pickup basketball is, and always will be, the go-to sport for us amateurs. You just grab your Sneaks, maybe a buddy or two, head to the court, and you could be in a real-life game in mere moments. However, once you step out on that court, the possibilities are endless...and that's not always a good thing. Let's delve deeper...

The Girl: Ok, we get it. You are a girl. That likes to play basketball. With guys. We are not impressed. At all. As a matter of fact, and I think I'm safely speaking for all other guys on the planet here...we despise you. Now you might think my main gripe is with the skill level of aforementioned chick baller. Not the case at all. Don't get me wrong, they are usually awful. AWFUL. Won't take a shot...can't make one if they do.

But hey, I've played with plenty of bad ballplayers before. That's not the worst thing about this "player." The absolute worst thing about going against them is that while we gentlemen take to the court with our perfectly normal human hands, the females in question have decided they would like to compete in our games with fingernails that would make Edward Scissorhands jealous. Seriously ladies, what are you doing before heading out to the gym? Going to your manicurist, sitting in the chair, and proclaiming, "Just make em as long and sharp as humanly possible." Why not just go the whole 9 yards and replace your hands with actual hooks? It would probably help your shooting percentage.

Now I know full well when I go out to play basketball, I might roll an ankle or take a stray elbow. Part of the game. But nowhere in my contract did I see anything about getting scratched and clawed, usually to the point of drawing blood. If there's that much contact and it's getting that physical with a girl, I usually expect to be a LOT happier when it's all over.

Sweatshirt Guy: Obviously, we are all aware that when stepping onto the court for a little roundball, our heart rate will go up and a workout will be had. The game requires you to run and jump. These activities in turn naturally produce some perspiration, or in the case of my brother Sam, a LOT of perspiration. Which makes this "Sweatshirt Guy" character all the more puzzling.

This is a game already jammed with movement and exercise. There is no need for you to try and burn those extra 35 calories by stuffing yourself into some horrible sweatshirt just so you can "get a real good sweat goin." And does your sweatshirt ALWAYS have to be gray? Do you take some kind of sick pride in your treasured hoodie being divided into two distinct halves? One, the original gray color you started with...the other, now a much darker, sadder shade of gray, swimming in your sweat for all the world to see. I'm not bagging on guys for sweating...that's a natural part of playin the game. But why do everything in your power to be as hot and uncomfortable as possible? "Sweatshirt Guy" on the basketball court is the same as the dude getting ready to step on a plane for a 6-hour flight wearing a turtle neck, tight jeans, and high's wrong in a lot of ways, and we're all a little bit scared of you.

(PS...there is one exception to the "Sweatshirt Guy" rule. This being that the sweatshirt in question is one of those that says, "Basketball is Life...the Rest is Just Details" with the basketball sitting on a stack of books. Only exception.)

Guy who is Too Tall- Most pickup basketball games that I've been a part of usually consist of a bunch of guys ranging not only in skill, but in height. You might get an Earl Boykins (5'5) checking in...couple of Chris Paul 6-footers, maybe a few in that Ben Gordon-Gary Payton (6'3-6'4) territory. All well and good. Split up the teams, let's dance. But nope, wait a comes that big, lanky, pseudo 7-footer lookin like Jonathan Bender, loping into the gym to take all the fun out of the day. (And with the way Bender's NBA "career" fizzled, it probably is him joining your game)

I think there's got to be a rule enacted to prevent these walking Redwoods from disrupting the sanctity of our competitions. If you're over 6'6, you must bring a friend with you of equal or greater height. That way, you mooks can spend the afternoon bouncing off one another and none of us get caught in the crossfire. How lame is it when you have a bunch of guys around the same vertical limit, and there's one monster 8 inches taller camped under the rim all day collecting offensive boards by the dozen? With this "buddy system," we will not have this problem and you beanpoles can keep playing peacefully without all of us resenting your presence and wishing horrible thoughts on you. Glad we got that settled.

"Let's Play Zone" Guy: Jim Boeheim...John Chaney...Jerry Tarkanian...all men experienced in teaching and executing a legitimate zone defense. Then there is you, 'Zone Guy.' You've decided that checking your opponent one-on-one is now out of the question. Instead, you have chosen to focus your energies on convincing everyone else on your squad to "go zone." This has never worked out in the history of pickup basketball games. What ends up happening is the two shortest guys go stand near the top of the key, one on each elbow, and the three other guys roam aimlessly from the paint to the corner. Boxing out becomes optional. Open shots are handed out like free samples at Costco.

It's never been a good idea, and it never will be. Part of the honor in pickup ball is matching up with somebody at the beginning of the game and trying to shut that guy down. Suggesting the switch to Zone D is embarrassing for you...and your family.

Guy That Can't just Check the Ball like a Normal Human Being:
Checking the ball before putting it in play is a simple exercise. I have the ball at the top of the key. I toss it you. You give it back. The sequence is done, the game continues, and the Earth keeps rotating. But this guy finds the whole situation too much to handle.

The pass back and forth should not be a complicated exchange. Either a soft chest pass, maybe an underhand flip, or a bounce pass are all excellent options. But this guy takes it as his opportunity to show the world that he can pass the ball with a huge amount of English, getting it back to you with more sidespin than a Joakim Noah free throw. And what about the guy who, before checking it back to you, decides he needs to turn around and make sure every single player on his team is in perfect guarding position for the upcoming possession? Yo's a bunch of hacks at the JCC, 8:00 on a Tuesday morning...just hand me the rock.

The worst example I can remember of bad "checking" etiquette was sometime in the winter of 1994. Me and my boy B-Shoke were playin a little two-on-two with a couple guys. B checks the ball to one of these hooligans, and the dude KICKS it back. Seriously. This Sean Landeta wannabe drops the ball and swings his foot forward, sending the ball catapulting forward from two and a half feet away. Not expecting this, my boy can't catch the ball, but just gets his hands up in time for it to crack one of his fingers. Bad, bad times. Thanks, Checking have a permanent place in the Hall of Fame of Annoying Pickup Players.

Guy that Just Finished Lifting: Forty-five minutes have gone by...and you, sir, have not come close to making a shot. You have thrown up a nauseating assortment of air balls, bricks, and those shots that get lodged between the rim and the backboard. But have a perfect explanation for this sickening display of inaccuracy. "I just finished lifting." Lifting what, elephant?

Couple rules when you step out on the court: take your watch off so you don't cut me worse than the girl mentioned before...and no excuses when you play like garbage. I admit, trying to shoot the ball immediately after working out can be scary for a few minutes. Takes a little bit for your body to find itself, see how hard you need to be shooting the ball. But when we've been out here an hour and you're still flinging bricks around like Kevin McCallister at the end of 'Home Alone 2,' it's not the lifting. It's just're horrible. So why don't you do Dr. James Naismith and the rest of us a favor? Stop playing this beautiful game, and trek it back to the weight room for another set of Lat Pull Downs. We'll all be better off.

Guy that Always Wants to Play 21: Sometimes it just so happens that you can only round up a couple other guys to head to the court with ya, and then nobody else is there. The dreaded 'Group of 3.' In my opinion, the best option for that day is to just chalk it up and shoot around. Some 3-point shooting contests, take some free throws, maybe a little H-O-R-S-E. Anything but 21. Who doesn't hate that game? I've heard of one-on-one...I've never heard of one-on-one-on-one. I got a lot of problems with this "game."

First off, the rules. There are approximately 986 different sets of rules to 21. Some shoot free throws after a bucket, some shoot threes...some guys have a tip-in take you back to zero, some play with no tips at all. A lot of times, when playing with guys you haven't played with before, you spend more time discussing the game setup than actually playing. It's like when I used to play 'NBA Live 2000' for N-64...had to go in the Game Options before I even played to take down the "automatic replays" meter or else I'd be looking at slo-mos of every Big Country Reeves lay-in for the next 90 minutes. Not sure how good that comparison was...but any excuse to mention Bryant Reeves, I'm running with it.

Second, the game usually develops into two of the guys playing tough D on each other while the 3rd guy just sits under the basket and gets the board. Has this ever not happened?

Last, and certainly not least, keeping score in this game could not possibly be shadier. After a guy hits a bucket later in the game, someone asks "Uh, what does that give you?" The guy kinda tilts his head to the side, like he's actually adding up his points, then arbitrarily says, "Yea, that's 19." It's too hard keeping track of the score for all the guys in the game. At some point, it's not even about who can score 21 points first; it's just about who can "announce" they got 21 first.

Guy that is WAY too Quick in Suggesting "Let's Go Shirts and Skins":
Everybody understands that in a pickup game, nobody's wearing uniforms. You try and familiarize yourself with your teammates before the game to the best of your ability. Hopefully, during the game, you don't slip up and accidentally throw it someone on the other squad. If you do, no big deal. Price of playing with a bunch of guys you've never met before. (And I don't even want to get started on the guy who calls for the ball intentionally when you're not on his team...this is the lowest form of life on the planet) But making an occasional turnover is in no way, shape, or form, reason enough for "Shirts and Skins" guy to bust out this ancient suggestion.

Nobody liked playing Shirts and Skins growing up. Did anybody really prefer to play on the skins team? I wasn't the strongest guy among my friends...not that I couldn't play the game, but I was not exactly Karl Malone physically. I'm still convinced I might have made my freshman high school basketball team if not for a scrimmage towards the end of try-outs when I had to shed my garment and reveal a muscular definition similar to that of Kerry Kittles (or maybe even Kerry Kittles' sister). Not that I'm still bitter or anything.

It's not even the suggestion by "Shirts and Skins Guy." It's how alarmingly quick he makes that suggestion. Just get finished choosing up sides, haven't even shot for ball is already yelping, "Hey, we'll be Skins!" as he rips off his Under Armour gear and throws it on the bleachers. Exactly how badly do you want to see everyone else's chest, Sir? No wait, don't answer that.

Feel free to post your own "pickup ball guys" in the comments section...or shoot me an email with your thoughts at