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 was tragically destroyed when I was about 15, I’ve been playing pickup basketball as my way of coping for over a decade now. I’ve been lucky enough that I can go down to the local gym and play with a variety of people practically anytime. If you have people, a ball and a hoop, you’re good to go.
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 outside of the arc, everyone calls their own fouls, and games are played to 15 points, win by two. If you win, you stay on the court to play the next team. However, the people playing on the court are as colorful as an Arizona Sunset.
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’s never touched a basketball in her life or she plays in the WNBA, nobody will let 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 just can’t win.
The Rebounder: Feel special if you see this guy on a court and get him on your team. He’s about as rare as a date with Shaun. No one in pickup games wants to do the dirty stuff like set picks and rebound, but the rebounder does. He 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 Ball Hog: This is just like he sounds: He’s Kobe on steroids (Actually…with the way Kobe has been playing…Kobe on steroids might be regular Kobe now…but I digress). This guy won’t pass to you and is so hated on the court he’s got a second nickname: The black hole. Now if this guy is really good, you might win a few games as you go along, but you’ll pretty much lose your soul while you do it.
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 NBA 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
The guy who just doesn’t belong: You feel bad for this guy…but he’s the one that just likes playing basketball and has absolutely no talent doing it. He can’t dribble the ball without staring directly at it, he’ll constantly miss layups, and his defender doesn’t even have to think about him when he’s on offense. I’ll be damned though if this guy doesn’t hit a ton of game winning shots when his defender leaves him to double team someone. Karma’s just like that I guess.
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 we were triple teaming him, 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.