Tuesday, August 9, 2011

0 comments Basketball Pickup Diaries (Part 3)

Justin Bieber’s got some flow. Check it out. Shocking, right? You probably expected a consolidated Vanilla Ice/Rebecca Black combo. So did I. Never judge a book by its cover, I guess.

The Dime pickup crew fell into that trap during our last hoop session. Maybe it was karma. We did bounce early from work to get in an extra hour or two on the court. But before our frustrating journey began, we ran into some mild interference. On one end of the NYU gym floor was a mind-numbingly inept game of three-on-three – but since we needed numbers, I had to ask if they wanted to join us. They promptly hurled a unanimous “no” in my face, followed by a refusal to move to a side court. They were there first. Who knew that the five-year-old rules of engagement trumped common courtesy.

Let me paint you a picture for a moment. At the gym we play at, there are six hoops and three full-length courts. Only the middle court is regulation width, so the warming up, games of H-O-R-S-E and three-on-three are relegated to the side courts. It was apparent that these guys were aware of the unwritten rules of the gym – they were all wearing NYU gear and clearly went to school there – they just chose to ignore them.

After a few minutes of transparent intimidation attempts on our hoop as a couple guys put up some humorously absurd shots, one brave soul decided it was time to put his foot down. I’m not one for confrontation. (What usually starts as an attempt at assertive authority somehow ends with me apologizing.) So this guy calmly strode over to their half and demanded that they move. After some mumbling, grumbling and squabbling, dude got his way, and therefore ours as well.

And off we went. Despite jumping out to an early lead with our usual up-tempo play and lights out shooting, we knew our opponent had a beast waiting to erupt: a 6-5, freakishly lanky guard who could handle the rock and knock down shots from range. It’s only because he came out conservative and deferential that we managed to grab the lead; had he decided to unleash his full offensive might, we would not have stood a chance. Luckily he continually passed to his useless teammates, never complaining when they turned it over or threw up airballs. You have to admire someone so willing sacrifice winning in favor of stroking the inflated ego of his untalented teammates. Then again, maybe he had some foresight; basketball is a five man game. Maybe one guy can carry you offensively, but that’s no defensive blueprint. So he inspired confidence and effort. After eventually easing his way into the selfish offensive weapon his team needed, they were happy to relinquish their offensive grips. Four straight buckets later, we were sitting on the wrong end of an 11-9 final score.
Game number two (against the same team – no one had next, so we were able to run it back) produced more favorable fortune.

The wingmen’s confidence disappeared, and the star’s ball domination clearly perturbed the lesser able. It’s formulaic, really. A domino effect that feels utterly irreversible. It all starts with a little too much selfish play. Then it’s one pass, shoot. Two passes, shoot. No passes, shoot. Maybe one or two courtesy ball swings, but that’s it. The less you touch the ball, the more you’re ready to leave your mark on the game. For better or for worse. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t suffer from a touch of that disease on occasion. But nothing like this. All we had to do was run back on defense, wait five seconds and box out. Ten minutes later we walked away with an 11-6 victory.

And this is where it gets awkward. Even though we split games, someone called winner only after the first game. A few minutes of shouting later, we were back at war. Except this time we got manhandled, and I’m not exactly sure how. They were generally short, slow and uncoordinated. The kind of guys you stand three feet off of and give a half-hearted effort to contest. Except they were making shots. I’m sure you know the type. The guy who shoots with such awkward rotation that two thoughts creep into your head – how do you contort the laws of physics to attain such ball rotation, and who taught you to shoot like that? Appropriately, neither of those questions really matter when the ball finds its way to the basket. And it did, seemingly every time down the floor. By the time the score reached 11-5, we were glad the embarrassment had ceased.
Scott and I jumped ship to hop on with the team who had next, which consisted of two NYU girls players. Bad decision on our part. Before you jump down my throat for being sexist, know that it wasn’t because of their gender. Their cardio was simply on another level – to the point where Scott and I were simply going from three-point line to three-point line (Cut to everyone who has ever played pickup recalling similar exhausted memories). They’d score a bucket and we’d inbound the ball to our point guard (one of the ladies). But she would already be on the move and her backcourt mate would be miles up the court. Meanwhile the rest of us ambled up the court, praying they didn’t shoot it too soon so we’d have to get back on defense. Even though we pulled out the first win, a part of me was slightly pissed. I had gone past crippling fatigue and was inching uncomfortably close to vomiting. So instead of focusing on the defensive end, I fell into another classic pickup trap. Burst energy. I ambled up and down the floor, barely contributing on either end. Once I touched the ball in a favorable spot, I emptied the tank and made my move toward the bucket. Except when you’re that tired, a miss is almost guaranteed. To compound the lost possession, you’re now supremely spent and mentally disheartened. It’s like at the end of movies when the guy runs to the airport before the girl goes off to art school in France – he catches her, they kiss, everyone at the airport ignores their anger at the fact that some jackass cut them in line and security guards forget that “I’m chasing a girl” is no excuse to let someone through. In my scenario, I missed the girl. In fact, I couldn’t even catch a cab to the airport. That’s how bad it was. The girls’ unending lung capacity let us steal the first game, but it all came to a crashing halt in game number two. And by “all,” I mean me. I’m pretty sure it was my atrocious play that led to the late game collapse.

So we were 1-2 as a crew. A pretty bad day. But we’ll be back for more and ready to improve upon our 7-5 summer record.