If you’ve known me for any amount of time, you know how much basketball is my favorite sport. Just last week I devoted my space to the lockout that no one cares about. While watching basketball is always a great time, my real love of basketball comes from playing it — constantly.
Since my dream of playing NBA basketball died when I was about 15 years old, I’ve been playing pickup basketball as my fix for over a decade now. (The last organized league I was in was all the way back when I was 17.) Pickup games come together anywhere that there’s a basketball hoop and people.
Despite the varied people and places that pickup ball consist of, the rules tend to remain the same. Shots are worth 1 or 2 points, call your own fouls, and games are to 15 points, win by two. If you win, you stay on the court. People on the court are as colorful as Dennis Rodman’s hair.
Cagey Veteran: The old guy that comes in with grey hair and a beer gut. He’s got a headband, knee brace and goggles, moves slower than molasses, and somehow never misses. The added bonus of this guy is that he constantly sweats enough to require a ball dryer after every possession.
SWAC (Shooter Without a Conscience): Missed his first 7 shots? The 8th one is going in, according to him. The game is tied at 13 and your team has the ball? You’d better hope that he’s not bringing the ball up, because he’s shooting it from half court for the game winner. No one likes the SWAC, because 9 times out of 10 he’s going to lose the game for you. He’ll never let you live down that 10th time, though.
The Girl: Every once in a while a girl will come and play. After the initial time of getting hit on by 80% of her team and 60% of the other team before the game, everyone is clueless on how to guard her. Nothing screams “I LOST MY MAN CARD” louder than a girl crossing you up and scoring on you. It doesn’t matter if she hasn’t ever touched a basketball in her life or she played for UCONN, nobody lets you live that one down. The opposite is true as well: Guard her too tight and block her shot and everyone sneers at you for being a bully. You can’t win.
The Rebounder: Feel special if you see this guy on a court. He’s about as rare as a white tiger in the wild. No one in pickup games wants to do the dirty stuff like set picks and rebound. This guy doesn’t care about scoring, unlike every other player on the court. Usually this guy ends up playing for 3 hours because his team never loses.
The Ultra-Competitive Guy: Imagine Kevin Garnett was a foot shorter and had no talent. Now imagine he’s playing basketball with you and treats your friendly pickup game like its game 7 of the finals. He’s willing to kick, claw, bite and slap his way to victory, all while not having a clue why 3 people want to kick his ass. No one likes this guy
Dominant Guy: He makes everyone else feel like they’re inadequate. This guy most likely played basketball at a D1 college or even in the NBA. Usually he takes half the game off talking to his buddies, or shooting 20-footers. But when the game is on the line, he has no problem going in and scoring the last 10 points without breaking a sweat.
Side story for you: I once played basketball with James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder back when he was in college at ASU. Despite the fact that I was 3 years older than he and I was guarding him along with 2 other people from my team, he easily dribbled right past the 3 of us and dunked on my head.
It was right then that I realized how much of a different level professional athletes are athletically than the rest of us. I knew that playing pickup games would be a great way to get a workout and have a good time — as long as I avoided the ultra-competitive guy. Next time you go out and play, try to identify these guys early, you might just have the upper hand…unless you’re playing with the dominant guy. Then just hope you’re on his team.