The Many Faces of Pickup Basketball

“Many athletes have tremendous God-given gifts, but they don’t focus on the development of those gifts. Who are these individuals? You’ve never heard of them– and you never will.”

…Unless you play pickup basketball.

I was originally going to start off by making a John Wooden joke, lamenting the death of basketball fundamentals, but a quick Wikipedia check reminded me that John Wooden actually died a year ago. Not to worry, we roll with the punches here on Agron Street so we’ll joke about the “Wizard of Westwood” anyways.

Before the greatest coach of all time bid his farewell, above any other advice or sage wisdom he could have offered the world with his last breaths, for some reason I can only imagine him whispering to his family and friends, “God as my witness, I despise pickup basketball.”

For students and serious practitioners of the game of basketball, there seems no worse fate than to endure watching a game of pickup at a local university or YMCA. “Pickup” at the JCC? By god, that might as well be a cleaver to Naismith’s peach basket. It is the bastardization of the beautiful game.

“Pickup” serves as the reality TV of basketball: a third of the people are out-of-shape with fading skills, a third are trying way too hard to impress, while a third are just out there to enjoy the ride and have a little fun.

Luckily, I am neither a serious basketball mind nor do I take myself too seriously. I love pickup basketball. Pickup games let you pretend you can actually play basketball. You can count it as exercise even if you never run. Best of all, they make it ok to wear old and tattered shirts that are not socially acceptable anywhere above the Mason-Dixon line.

More than anything else, I love the nuances and characters that show up during every game. It varies slightly from place to place, but really these characters continue to pop up wherever you’re playing, even overseas (What up, Gan Hapaamon!)

Let’s take a look at the lineup of the usual suspects:

The Bruiser in the Middle (AKA The Fat Guy)

Like most pickup players, this guy hates crossing half-court. Two types of the bruisers exist: the shitty kind and the apathetic kind. The shitty kind, yeah he’s just a fat guy who can’t play basketball. I care much more about the apathetic kind. The Eddy Curry, if you will. If he played in the NBA, he would be a “Jailblazer.” He’s got all of the skills – moves in the post, rebounds galore, shot-blocking machine – but man, does this guy not give a fuck. He probably got kicked off his high school team for always feuding with the coach, and now he’s packed on 30 pounds from all of the “protein” shakes.

The A-Hole who runs too much (AKA The 5 ft. 6 and under league)

You can only love or hate this player and obviously it entirely depends on whether or not he plays on your side. He’ll lurk in the backcourt and get at least 3 cheap steals when your point guard brings the ball up the court. He’ll harass on D constantly and push the tempo on offense. Basically, he plays fundamental and serious basketball when neither of those traits have a place anywhere near a pickup game. He’s a cross between Ty Lawson, David Eckstein and Bruce Bowen, or more commonly known as the most unlikeable player ever. If he played in the NBA, he’d rock the bench on the Pacers.

The Athlete (AKA The Foreigner)

This player has absolutely no idea what he’s doing on the hardwood. God blessed him with the physical skills that unfortunately he squandered by focusing on soccer, swimming, or something else way too European for my liking. Even if he sacrifices a few inches, you can always count on him to play strong in the post, rebound, and make at least a couple passes or shots that blow you away. Of course, he’ll probably follow that play up by punching someone on defense just because he’s not quite sure what the rules are. He’s the Serge Ibaka of pickup. If he played in the NBA, the Spurs would grab him in the second round of the draft.

The Douchebag (AKA The Ball-Hog)

You have an outside shot. We get it. Can you please pass everyone else the ball now?This guy definitely has had an earring at some point in his life and spends his weekends trying to “mack on some bitches.” He’ll probably get in a fight during the game and will yell at his teammates if they miss a shot the one time he passes it to them. NBA equivalent: J.R. Smith. NBA team: Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Baller (AKA The Guru of Pickup)

Unlike “The Douchebag,” you are never angry when this guy shoots. He turns pickup into an art form. Maybe his game does not translate successfully in traditional formats, but when the coaches and refs leave the building this guy goes to work. Two forms of this player exist: The facilitator and the dominator. Or the Jason Williams and the Michael Beasley. If they are on your team, you will not lose. But just like Jay-Wil and The Beas, don’t count on them succeeding in a real game.  NBA team: Golden State.

Other Notables

  • The Fred Hoiberg (AKA “The Mayor” AKA The Three Point Specialist)
  • The Assist leader (AKA The Puritan Dish)
  • The Midrange Assassin (AKA The Rip Hamilton)
  • The Enforcer (AKA Dave Chappelle’s Block Party)

If you can think of any other “Pickup” characters, I’d love to hear more.

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One Response to The Many Faces of Pickup Basketball

  1. Pingback: How Teams are Assembled « Basketball with Accountability

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