Friday, January 29, 2010
It's a topic we discuss a lot on this blog, and for good reason. Pickup basketball really is the truest measure of what a dude is all about. Does your boy pass the rock? Does he shoot it every time down the floor? Can he D his man up? It is often said that you can learn more about a guy in five minutes on the hardwood than you could in five years under any other circumstances. Don't try and argue with me...this stuff has been proven. Today, we bring aboard my younger brother Sam, a pickup ball extraordinaire, for a little back-and-forth exchange on this timeless athletic phenomenon.
Everybody can remember a certain game or day on the court when absolutely nothing could go wrong. Errant passes are recovered for easy layups, your crossover feels like it has been personally blessed by Tim Hardaway, and every 3-ball you take falls through the net like melted butter on a flaky Pillsbury biscuit. I can remember one specific late afternoon/early evening at IM East on the campus of Michigan State University when the pickup gods were all smiles in my direction.
I was lucky enough to hook up with that unique group of guys that all come to the court together, and know each others' tendencies inside and out. Once we started rollin', they could see I had it going from deep, and they responded immediately. Every time down, these guys were setting screens for me and wiping out any defender that dared to try and make it through the gauntlet unscathed. It became their personal mission to get me the rock in a position to shoot, and all I had to do was catch, rise, and fire.
I felt like Mitch Richmond on those horrendous Sac Kings teams in the early 90's when every single possession was geared around getting him the pill and letting him operate. Only we were winning. We probably wound up running the court for a good two hours before some fresh squad came on and wore us down. Guys were coming up to me after offering high-fives, a ride back to my crib, their younger sisters to date. For that night, I was a pickup legend.
Pretty sure you've had some nights like this yourself, young brother; though I'd imagine most of your big games came with me handling the ball and driving/kicking to you at your every beck and call, where all you had to do was set the puppies and let it fly. Any memorable gym-rat outings that stick out in your mind??
Let me start out by thanking you, High Socks. I am an avid fan of your blogitation, and am honored to be writing on it for the second time (see my article on can't miss deodorizers and other noteworthy information).
Ah yes, pick-up hoops. I love talking pick-up, playing pick-up, and all too often, eating pick-up. The game of basketball is very dear to me. If given the opportunity, I would partake in games every day of the week. In fact, contrary to what my academic advisor might tell you, I definitely earned college credit in the department of brain, behavior, and baseline jumpers. So it goes without saying that I've done a lot of "running:" threes half-court, fours, fives, and even Australian when I'm feeling particularly good. Yet, I can still point to that single day at the intramural gym where, like you said, everything seemed to go right. My four comrades and I took the court with standard pick-up expectations of winning two in a row.
It was clear to me even after the first few possessions that somehow, someway, our squad was meshing like "lamb and tuna feesh." Pick and rolls, backdoor layups, pick and pops, putbacks, fast breaks. The terror we imposed on offense was balanced by a vocal defense rarely experienced on the after-class hardwood. We must have won six or seven games consecutively without batting an eye. Unlike your story, my tale is about a team. While the game only necessitates you play five guys, it is near impossible to form a team where you play to each others' strengths. Little did I know that the particular team I speak of included John Grotberg, the NCAA's all-time leader in career threes. Now, pair him with myself, two other bodies, and whom I swear was actually the angelic form of Christopher Lloyd from that Outfield flick, and you've got a pretty sweet team and an unforgettable night at the gym.
I was very fortunate the past few years at Michigan to have actually run several games with LaVell Blanchard, a 4-year starter for Big Blue in the early 00's. He was a guy with incredible talent, and we actually became good buddies on the court. For me, this felt like a dream come true. Not only did I get to run as long as I desired (we won every game), but the style of play wasn't of your average pick-up quality with long threes and uncalled banks. LaVell demanded proper play and that's what me and the others delivered. Some people close to me said that I talked too often about those outings with 'Vell, and that it was starting to sound a little weird. I'm in a better place now...halfway around the globe from where he's playing in France.
Ahh, I see it didn't take long for you to mention your boy LaVell. I'll go ahead and say it. I've heard all your tales and fables about the times you spent with him over the years, but lemme ask you one thing; is there any legitimate evidence or documentation that these meetings/games actually took place??? I've never come across LaVell at a family dinner or seen his name pop up in the missed calls log of your celly. The only thing I can remember is that weird doctored photograph you created where he had his arm around your shoulder at some seedy bar with the caption "Friendz 4 Lyfe" scribbled at the top (Still one of the low points of your college career). I believe that during the time period for which those alleged "games" took place, LaVell was hoopin' in places like Italy, Greece, and Russia. What'd you guys do, meet halfway in Livonia?? (Unknown to most, Livonia is exactly halfway to every major city in the world. It's the geographical center of the universe.) Tell ya what, I'll give ya the benefit of the doubt and take your word that you balled with one of Michigan's finest, but I'm digesting it with several dozen grains of salt.
I'll agree that the pickup dynamic can change quite a bit when a stud college player or even a pro takes to the court. Sad to say, but most of the legends I've run with were either well past their primes or down to just one good leg, and most times, it was both. There was former UDM Titan star Terry Duerod, a guy that despite being heavily bandaged and braced at all times, continued to demand the rock in pickup games throughout the 1990's, at one point even doing so right in the middle of a hip replacement operation taking place at the top of the key. Former "Bad Boy" John Long has also been a gym-rat regular over the years in the area, and I'm honored to say that I've been swept off the court on more than one occasion so Steady Eddie could run his daily three-man weave. But I think you would agree that our most memorable brush with greatness didn't involve either of us at all.
We both took piano lessons for a couple of years. A little practice here, a little bit there, several busted versions of the Chariots of Fire theme along the way. It wasn't exactly our finest hour. You escaped one lesson by hiding in the bushes outside, while I infamously hightailed it to the nearby commons to avoid the "Piano Man." It's not that our teacher was scary. It's just that we hadn't practiced one iota and had no way of hiding this fact when that "30 Minutes of Hell" commenced. So we ran. But thankfully, sometimes we stayed, and we heard stories. And when I say stories, I mean stories.
Anybody that's anybody in the Metro Detroit area knows Mike Bez. That was our teacher. He could tickle the ivories like Beethoven. He could play "Chopsticks" with his feet. But those who knew him best were aware of his real talent. Shooting 3s...from the wing...off glass. And it worked. Elias Sports Bureau reported that Bez was cash money a good 86% of the time from beyond the arc when he was completely unguarded and given the standard 12-14 seconds to prepare his shot. (Unfortunately, this percentage did drop to 12% if there was any defender within breathing distance.) Even though his delivery resembled a soccer player 'throw in' with that unorthodox over-the-head release, the ball usually found its way through the net. Which takes us to the aforementioned classic story of David versus Goliath that generally found its way into our weekly lessons at least two or three dozen times in the span of that half hour.
As the legend went, Bez was just mindin' his Biz one lazy afternoon at Franklin Racquet Club. Then he walked in. The he in question...one Mr. Grant Hill. G-Hill was rehabbing his ankle at the time, but was still able to go work on his J every once in a while. Well, on this day, he couldn't help but notice the mop-topped piano teacher bombing away on the other end of the floor. He challenged our man to a shootout. The offer was accepted. It was "Hill vs. Bez" to decide the fate of the free world. Okay, maybe not quite at that level, but when he tells you this story and you're an impressionable 13-year-old mook doing all you can to memorize the notes on the treble clef, you'll believe just about anything. The exact specifics of that contest have been lost in the shuffle over the years, but there's one thing neither of us will ever forget: Bez took G-Hill down. The story always ended the same way; with our hero knocking down one final glasser to clinch the victory as the NBA super-duper-star looked on in sheer amazement. Un-freaking-believable.
Maybe we weren't actually at the gym to witness that slice of history. And sure, maybe Bez casually "forgets" to mention the fact that G-Hill was on crutches that day and performed most of his shots while in a wheelchair. None of it matters now. We heard the story. It changed our lives. Nuff' said.
Wow, BroSox. That was ummm...interesting. I think we just went from talking about pick-up b-ball to the musical stylings of one Mike Bez. To put this discussion to rest, let me point out a few things about the pick-up game that bug me. Your man Bez and his 25 foot bank just rubs me the wrong way. I've played in too many games when a three goes up from the top and it falls in...off glass. At that point, the players might smile and laugh their way back down the other side; but me...I say that bucket don't count. I call a foul on the shooter for "hurting" the backboard and we're going the other way...no points. The shot goes through the net, but it's unsightly. Hey, I'll tell you what. You can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking your head up a bull's a$$, but wouldn't you rather take the butcher's word for it? Wait, that doesn't apply...let's move on.
Speaking of shots that go through the net, I am absolutely certain you are familiar with the guy who refers to a swish as "all nets." First off, there is only one net, so "nets" is out of the question. Second, where has this guy has been playing all this time that nobody has "straightened him out" yet??? Next time you bring that jargon to the court, we instantly start calling you "Old Skool."
After a tough game, I like to get a healthy swig of water from the fountain just like the next guy. I understand that the postgame drink is one that is most satisfying; in fact, researchers at Subway University have shown that postgame fountain water is, on average, colder than pure ice. However, there is still no reason to spend more than twenty or thirty seconds lapping it up. I take pride in grabbing a few swigs, getting in line again, and then having my personal time with the watering hole. The next time you witness the marathon drinker after a game taking his good ol' time, interrupt him and ask politely, "Mind if you raise your chops when you drink cause I'm really thirsty and might be able to salvage what you're not catchin?" I promise he'll step out of your way and never think about committing that crime again.
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