What do you get when you combine a rubber ball, two nets suspended from crooked-ass poles of equal length and ten enthusiastic but altogether hopelessly white dudes, only half of whom are fully clothed?
A game of hoops.
Now, I know that phrase might make a somewhat provocative title for an amateur bareback video or a new reality show on Bravo (give it a second), but I’m actually talking about basketball. More specifically, pick-up basketball – which is sort of like the Downs-afflicted cousin of a competitive, structured, rule-abiding game.
A favorite ritual in YMCAs, JCCs and low-income urban slums everywhere, a good pick-up game is one of the last bastions of democracy, self-governance and rugged masculinity in all of Bromerica. But at-large douchebaggery can disband an otherwise fairly contested game in seconds. It’s usually the fault of one of these assholes – the ten people no one ever wants to see on the pick-up court:
Hyper-Competitive Geriatric Dude
OK, I get it: you hate your wife, kids and job and this bi-weekly game of half-assed pick-up ball is the highlight of your miserable existence. Naturally, the game takes on elevated meaning to you, which -- in combination with the decline in athleticism you so proudly deny – compels you to devote every last drop of testosterone your torpid loins can muster into proving (to yourself) that you can still “hang with the young bucks.”
Newsflash: if you can’t even get fully torqued flipping through your daughter’s yearbook anymore, you sure as hell aren’t gonna be running circles around a group of twenty-somethings. Yet you deceive yourself into thinking you can still compete by tugging shirts, throwing discreet ‘bows, clawing people with your freakish, yellowing fingernails and generally mauling the flight-of-foot youngster you were assigned to defend.
Gramps: do us a favor and camp out on that eighteen-footer you’ve committed to memory, call out picks and try not to smash anyone in the nose with your Rec-Specs.
Fat, Hairy Slob on the Skins Team
Can we just make a pact right now, among all purveyors of pick-up ball, that the team with the obese guy sporting VBH (visible back hair) automatically assumes the role of Shirts? We can save him the social paranoia of having to swing his milk-puppies around for every girl on campus to see AND one less guy will have to leave the floor with water-logged ears and second-hand B.O. after defending him.
Former D-I Hotshot
What’s that you say? You used to be a reserve on a perennial Top-25 team? Cool bro. So glad you could join us today to lope around the court and watch your man roll home run-out after run-out while you stare at the rim in disbelief after clanking five consecutives contested jumpers off back-iron.
Now look: we’re down 2-10, which is when you go into Kobe-mode and either a) bruise someone’s fragile confidence with a nuts-on-chin circus dunk or b) clank five more contested jumpers off back-iron. Usually the latter.
Note to you, former D-I hotshot: you’re not fooling anyone with that egregious lack of effort -- we know it’s just a frail attempt to obfuscate the fact that your once imposing game has regressed to the point that four soccer players and their tall clumsy friend can run you off the court.
You’ve played with this guy a thousand times before, everyone present knows he’s average (at best), but yet today – with you covering him – he decided to eat his steroidically enhanced Wheaties. Now he’s doing the MJ shrug after banking in another trifecta from six feet behind the arc. Your teammates glare at you after every possession, as if your defensive deficiencies are responsible for his transcendence into the God-zone.
You consider feigning injury to preserve some pride but decide against it. He eventually bangs home a blindfolded, half-court game-winner with his off hand, leaving you to walk off the court with a considerable amount of build-up in your proverbial eyepiece.
That’s all he says, so we might as well dub him the same. Touching, breathing, and even cynical glances should be avoided around this guy for the sake of completing the game in less than an hour.
I blame soccer.
The Little Engine that Could
These guys are the antitheses of the also-ran Select Team standouts: short dudes of various ethnicities, credences and sporting backgrounds who don’t let a lack of discernible basketball skills prevent them from being the most annoying cover on the court. When defending you, these pint-sized energy merchants will harass and faceguard you out of the game. On the other end, they’ll run aimless laps around the perimeter, contributing little to the box-score but effectively rendering you a heaving, bong-hit-craving shell of your formerly athletic self.
The Kid Who Mysteriously Refuses to Take His Shirt Off
This guy always baffles me. He’s not fat. Doesn’t seem to be overtly hairy. Why then, is he so adamant about the shirt staying on? What the F*CK is going on under there that must be kept secret from the world? Chronic bacne? Expansive birthmark? Weird, Farrah Fawcett nipples?
Buck up, son. Nobody’s perfect, and frankly, leaving the shirt on is a more surefire way to ostracize yourself than letting us all know you’re a burn victim.
The Big Oaf
Did you just get those legs recently? Cause it kind of looks like you’ve never used them before.
The assumption that anyone over, say, 6’ 4” will invariably enhance his side’s chances of winning a pick-up game does not always hold true. Occasionally, an outsized dude stumbles onto the court – presumably dragged along by insistent friends who he has told multiple times “I don’t play basketball” – boasting the motor skills of a non-medal-contending Special Olympian. You gotta feel for the guy as he fumbles every entry pass and rebound over the baseline, because he’d probably be playing Warcraft if not for the peer pressure.
The Self-Proclaimed Point Guard
Typically, the role of point guard in a pick-up game is determined by an unspoken process of mutual respect, wherein after two or three possessions, the shorter guys on the team have collectively acknowledged which of them represents the best ballhander/distributor. But sometimes, you’ll get one of these Scrappy-Doo types who camps on outlet passes, has a few NBA Street moves memorized and flat-out refuses to let anyone else handle the ball.
Now, should you find yourself on this guy’s team, here is a breakdown of how your possessions will play out over the course of the game:
20%: PG turns the ball over attempting maneuver that qualifies as a blatant carry or double-dribble.
20%: PG turns the ball over trying to pass out of a trap he dribbled himself into.
20%: PG attempts some type of scoop-shot or teardrop in traffic; misses egregiously.
20%: PG, embarrassed by turnover on previous three possessions, passes ball; field-goal attempt is good.
19%: PG calls foul.
1%: PG scores.
I will tolerate any of the above over having to man-up on the ambiguously gay girl in baggy shorts wearing a mouthguard. No, seriously: if I see a chick on the other team, I stand as far away from her as possible come match-up time. Defending her is the ultimate lose-lose situation. Guard her aggressively, pack her sh*t and break her ankles -- you look like a douchebag. Step off and let her release one of those chest-heavy, low-arcing jumpers – she bangs it home and you spontaneously grow a vagina.