Friday, December 23, 2005


Devoted reader, former roommate, and all around smart dude Ben sent us an interesting article about Gonzaga basketball phenom Adam Morrison. For those out of the loop, Morrison is a 6-8 white guy who idolizes Larry Bird. The thrust of this article, found in Slate, is that almost every promising white player is compared to Larry Bird at some point, which is both unfair to them and to Bird. A great quote:

"Want proof that getting compared to Bird is a one-way ticket to the Caucasian basketball graveyard? A list of players who've been identified as Bird-like reads like the roster of a CBA team sponsored by the KKK."

When we started Setshot, Old School and I talked a lot about taking on the issue of race -- particularly as it pertained to pickup hoops. But we could never figure out a way to address it concisely and originally. The issue is just too big, too complicated, too scary -- and many writers have already produced intelligent, cogent commentaries (for example, Frey, Shields, Wideman; see "Best Hoops Reading").

I think that our only hope here is to address race in little tiny stabs. I'll devote a future post to my experiences as an Asian pickup player, but for now, let's talk about Morrison, Bird, and the World of Whites. I think that the Slate article is provocative, but the argument's not water-tight. Yes, white guys have traditionally been compared to Bird, but this is changing fast as new and different forms of whiteness have emerged in basketball (Nash, Ginobili, D.I.R.K.) Also, because Morrison himself claims to idolize Bird, saying that it's unfair to compare the two is itself a bit unfair. That said, race is race, and there will probably always be an "apples to apples" temptation among sports commentators and pundits. When the NBA is full of Asians, will they all be compared to Yao? "You know Bill, that Chang reminds me a lot of Yao Ming. And only eleven inches shorter! The resemblence . . . is . . . remarkable."

The Slate article talks about the Gonzaga-Oklahoma State game in which Morrison hit a bank three at the buzzer to win it, focusing on the announcers' incessant Morrison-Bird comparisons, but it fails to mention another interesting exchange that I caught between CBS commentators Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson. Early in the game, they were discussing the Bird-Morrison thing, and Raftery said something to the effect of: "Morrison actually reminds me of another player: Kiki Vandeweghe." Johnson, clearly aware (at least to me) that they had only compared Morrison to white players, hastily added "Or Reggie Miller! Or Rip Hamilton!"

So I don't even know what the point of all this is. I guess only that the issue of race in sports is sensitive, but also complicated. Setshotters: Help me understand white people.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Careers: When to retire? Part II

For the last month or so, I haven’t been in the mood to post on Setshot. I’ve been too worried about my knee. In mid-October, I played in the most intense game since my return from ACL surgery three years ago. Not only was the game tough, but I was overmatched, and to make matters worse, my wife happened along--compelling me to exert myself well beyond my capacities. It turns out she wasn’t even watching. It seems they never are (see Girls Ain't Nothin' But Trouble).

After the game, my knee hurt differently than it ever had before and was a little numb. The pain didn’t go away for weeks. I made an appointment with the doctor and joined the injured list. Retirement seemed imminent.

Every other night, I sat down at the computer to write a new post, but I couldn’t do it. Jeff wrote posts about trash talking and scoring on an NBA player and old man moves, but I just couldn’t match him. I wrote a few posts about stuff I found on the web, but I couldn’t bring myself to write anything personal. Jeff suggested I write about being injured, but I just couldn’t face it. Part of it was that I wasn’t having many hoops experiences in my street clothes. But most of it was that it just made me too damn depressed. Could it really be over?

Earlier, I had hoped that Setshot might be a place that both current players and retirees could enjoy, but if I was typical, retirees would avoid the site like the plague.

This week, I finally got to the doctor. He told me it wasn’t my ACL, but probably just a meniscus problem. He advised against surgery because the meniscus is serving a purpose. Instead, I should just play with the pain (which really is quite minor) and keep building up my quads.

I could have kissed him. He saw how happy I was and said “Keep on playing. Keep on playing. It’s good for you. We’ll work through this.”

"I play too,” he said with a grin. I immediately told him all about Setshot.

“I’m 58”, he said. “I’m always the old man of the court. But I can shoot a hook with either hand and nobody can stop me.”

If you’re reading, Dr. Old Man of the Court, thank you very much. Jeff just e-mailed about a regular run at Strawberry Creek Park. The guys are at our skill level (me, moderate-to-bad; Jeff, awesome) and “more importantly, they seem like polite and considerate young men.” I’m so ready.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Psychology: What's the worst that can happen?

In addition to increasing physical discomfort, we aging ballers must deal with another type of pain: shame. We are ashamed that we're not as good as we used to be. We are ashamed that our shorts are too short. We are ashamed of our 1987-model Reebok Pumps. We are ashamed to leave the court and go back to our "jobs." Most of all, we are ashamed that youngsters break our ankles, dunk on us and block our shots and then cheer wildly about it. Don't they know that if they played us when we were in our prime, we'd be the ones breaking ankles, dunking (ok, slapping the backboard) and blocking (ok, contesting)?

I read somewhere (Reader's Digest?) that the best way to deal with shame is to bring it out into the open. So let's share our most shameful moments. It'll be fun -- promise!

The worst one for me was missing a two-foot layup at the buzzer to lose a league game in New York. We were down one with a few seconds to go. The final play was not called for me, but our guy missed the shot, and by pure dumb luck, the rebound fell right into my hands directly under the basket. I didn't know how much time we had, panicked, and BRICKED it from point blank range. We actually won the league championship that season, but the game I choked was the only one we lost. I don't remember too many details from the season, but that moment is forever burned into my memory. Oh, did I mention that my girlfriend was at the game?

Another shameful moment was getting alley-oop dunked on to lose a pickup game. I think that it was game point both ways (i.e., next basket wins). I was guarding someone much bigger than me. All I remember is losing my man for literally a second, turning around and seeing him way up in the air, and then hearing the awful sound of a game-winning dunk. I was basically under the basket, which meant that I had gotten posterized in the final, climactic moment.

Alright, that was less fun than I thought. But since I wrote it, I''ll post it. What are you ashamed of?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Style: Best hoops haircuts

We tend to take our hair for granted when we're young. We can do whatever we want with it. Grow it long. Shave it off. Shave some of it off. But aging takes its toll on our coiffability. Many of us start losing our hair. We go gray. Our fine, gleaming locks become bristly and stiff.

So while we still have some left, let's talk about the coolest hoops hairstyles. My favorite ever was on an asian kid I used to play with in Boston. His hair was cut marine-short all over, except for his bangs, which grew down to his chin. This wouldn't have been that remarkable except that he always rebounded one-handed, which made his bangs fly all over the place in a really neat way. I attempted this hairstyle myself for a while, but my head is too oval and I looked stupid. Plus, I rebound with two hands.

There was another white guy I knew who had a big curly afro. Again, no big deal, except that he always came to the gym in a full 1970s-style Lakers uniform, complete with short shorts and striped socks. This dude looked like he'd been time-warped straight from Walt Frazier's corporate basketball camp. He even played like he was from the 70s, with a straight up-and-down dribble and a two-handed quasi-set shot. And, he was awesome!

Setshotters: Share your favorite hairstyles here.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Tips: What would Jesus do?

The crazy kids of Global Mission Church in Silver Spring, Maryland suggest another way of improving your vertical jump.

Click "more" for comments only.

Tips: The ultimate trick shot

Check out the "ultimate trick shot". Pretty tricky!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Equipment: Jeff's ankle brace review

My name is Jeff. I'm 31 years old. I look like I'm 16. I have the ankles of an 80-year-old.

My ankles have been brittle for as long as I can remember. I started rolling and spraining them as a teenager, and experienced a series of horrific injuries in my twenties. In 2003, I had a really bad one that put me on crutches for six weeks and kept me off the court for months. My doctor made me get an MRI. When we looked at it, he pointed out that one of the ligaments in my ankle had been completely torn away. My poor ligament won't ever grow back, and at some point, I will have to have surgery.

I had to start wearing ankle braces to play basketball about eight years ago. Over time, I've experimented with a few different styles and brands, and I will share my thoughts here.

1. Ace bandage. This is what the doctor/trainer wraps your ankle in immediately after a minor injury. It provides minimal support and will not prevent most ankle rolls. Don't try playing in this.

2. Standard neoprene ankle brace. If you have a very minor injury, this could do. However, for someone with ankles as bad as mine, this might as well be wax paper. When my ankles see one of these, they laugh and laugh.

3. Aircast. This is a serious piece of equipment, but it's not really for playing in. It's for walking around while your ankle is healing. If you try to play in one of these, your ankle will be protected from injury, but you will only be able to run at half speed, and turning will not really be an option. It should be called "The Mutombo."

4. Basic lace-up ankle brace. This is a good, affordable option. The brace has laces in the front, which can be tightened and loosened as needed, and there is usually some sort of lightweight wiring embedded in the side for additional support. It takes a while to get used to wearing this type of brace, but once you are accustomed to it, it feels like an old (but smelly) friend.
Lace-ups will prevent most injuries, but not all. My ligament-shredding ankleplosion happened in one of these.

5. Lace-up brace with inserts. This is one step up from the lace-up brace, and what I currently play in. I actually remove the inserts because they are uncomfortable, but these braces are still tougher than the standard lace-ups. I've never had a serious injury in one of these. McDavid and Tru Fit are good brands.

Setshotters: Share your experiences with ankle support here. Also feel free to contribute reviews of knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist and face supports. We'll start another thread for "best steroids," so hold off on that for now.

Monday, November 14, 2005

NBA: Paul Shirley on retirement

Former NBA benchwarmer Paul Shirley writes a fantastic blog about the life of an ordinary NBA basketball player. He is articulate, funny and honest. Today's entry is particularly relevant to Setshot, as it's about the prospect of retirement. He says that he idolizes Mark Pope, who retired this year without apparent regret, and plans to enter medical school.

Shirley got some attention last year with his "Road Ramblings" blog -- in which he wrote about being bored in practice, being bored on the bench, being bored on the road, and liking girls a lot. He tagged himself as an "embedded journalist," and was recently rewarded with a book deal from Random House.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Players: A 52-year-old college basketball player!

Here's a recent story from the Detroit Free Press to inspire us all. Maybe this guy can be Setshot's official spokesman.

Aging rookie gives college players run for their money

IRONWOOD, Mich. (AP) -- Gogebic Community College basketball players have a new incentive not to break team rules or skip practices: They might get benched in favor of a 52-year-old man.

Russ Maki, who is studying criminal justice at the Western Upper Peninsula school, has earned a spot on the roster as a walk-on.

"It's been a great experience, bonding with these younger guys," Maki told the Daily Globe for a story this week. He made a brief appearance in the Samsons' opening game Tuesday night but didn't score.

A long-ago member of the Wakefield High School squad, Maki played last year on a city league team with the Gogebic assistant coach, who encouraged him to try out. The head coach, Deke Routheaux, gave the OK.

"I was a little surprised he was willing to do this," Routheaux said Wednesday, adding that Maki was in "great shape."

There was one problem: Maki, who runs an insurance company, didn't attend Gogebic. So he enrolled as a full-time criminal justice major.

"Well, if the insurance business goes bad, I guess I can be a cop," he joked.

After working out with the team for a week, he decided he could keep up with the other guys and stuck with it, scoring nine points in a recent scrimmage.

Maki's life is hectic nowadays. Classes start at 8 a.m. He works at the insurance agency from noon until basketball practice, which ends at 5 p.m. Then he does homework and lifts weights for an hour.

He also squeezes in time for his wife and two daughters.

"It'd be nice to have 36 hours a day," he said.

Routheaux is noncommittal about playing time for Maki, but says he's a valuable addition to the team.

"He's an inspiration for the other players to work hard and be on time," Routheaux said. "They respect what he's doing and he fits in well with these guys, doing the little things right, playing hard. If he can get up at 6:30 in the morning, they shouldn't whine about it."

Maki said he shows up 30 to 45 minutes early for practice and tries to hustle during all the drills.

"I do it to show I can do it, and it seems like the players kind of follow suit," he said.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Psychology: Who do you think you are?

With the NBA season underway, I thought that it would be a good time to raise a topic that Cary had recently suggested. The question is: Do you ever imagine yourself as a pro basketball player, and if so, who do you imagine yourself as?

Nowadays, I don't really ever imagine myself as anyone else, but I often imagine that I am a better version of myself. The weather has been getting "bad" here in Berk
eley of late, so there have been quite a few nights of lonely foul shooting at Ohlone Park. The imagination runs wild. Jeff can dunk! Jeff is breaking ankles! Jeff pins that weak shit against the glass!

When I was a teenager, there were two pro basketball players that I liked to think of myself as. The first was John Stockton. Being small, I had to learn to play PG, and soon fell in love with passing. Stockton was an obvious role model at that time. NBA highlight shows would play reel after reel of "STOCKTON TO MALONE!" and I liked to think of myself finding all those tiny passing lanes and fooling all the big guys with my lookaways.

However, PG is not my natural position. My natural position is center. When I first started playing, I had no handle and no range, but I could jump really high and had good timing, so I got lots of rebounds and bloc
ked a ton of shots for someone my size. In pickup games, I'd go down low and pretend that I was Patrick Ewing. I remember seeing tape of that Georgetown game where Ewing goaltended all those shots and thinking that it was so cool, so intimidating, that blocking shots became my favorite thing in basketball. And believe me, when a little skinny asian kid blocks your shot, you're gonna hear about it.

I even taught my baby sister a bunch of big man trash talk. I'd take her to the park when I had to babysit, and she became a sort of mascot there. During shootarounds, I'd bring her onto the court and hold the ball in front of her. I taught her to slap the ball out of my hands and say "Get outta my house!" or simply "Ewing!" in her squeaky little voice. So cute. Actually, the cutest thing was when she would say "money" as she shot the ball, it went about two feet in the air, and rolled to the sideline.

Ok Setshotters, who are your NBA role models? Anyone who says Kobe Bryant gets a free trip to Guantanamo Bay.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Tips: Best hoops reading

As we get older and less able to play, we have to find different ways to stay engaged with the game. I'm always looking for good basketball books, so I thought I'd start a thread where folks can post up their favorites. Here are some of mine.

1. My favorite basketball book ever is Playing for Keeps by David Halberstam, which is about Michael Jordan. Halberstam is a big-time historian, and he provides a fantastic level of detail. The running theme of Playing for Keeps is that the cause, and price, of Jordan's success was basically a pathological need to win. This is not news, but there are some great stories around this theme, like when Jordan cheats at a game of Old Maid with his college roommate and his roommate's grandma. ("Did you just cheat my grandma in Old Maid?") The sections about Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas are also really fun to read.

2. Another good one is The Last Shot by Darcy Frey. This one follows the Lincoln High (Coney Island) basketball team around in the early 1990s, and focuses on the twisted process of college recruiting. A bratty 14-year old Stephon Marbury makes some extended cameo appearances, the first of which has him rolling into Coney Island's famous "Garden" basketball court on a Big Wheel.

3. I also loved The Last Season by Phil Jackson, mostly for the Kobe-Shaq gossip. Jackson does his best to handle the Bryant sex scandal delicately, but in reading between the lines, it looks to me like Jackson's saying: "I think Kobe raped her."

4. I'm right in the middle of The Jump by Ian O'Connor -- the new one about Sebastian Telfair. Telfair gets treated pretty gently (this is the price of total access), but the high school/NCAA/NBA exploitation machine does not. Some good Marbury-bashing in this one as well. I find it riveting.

Ok Setshotters, share and review your favorite books here!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Tips: How to shoot a set shot

We named this site "setshot" to reflect the repertoire of the player that's just too old and broken down to jump or drive the lane anymore. For me, the name also conjures up my dad and his old-fashioned moves. And that conjures up an era when the set shot dominated basketball. Jeff and I don't go back that far, of course, (we're aging, not old) but the game has changed in many ways since our childhood. So, to celebrate our diminishing abilities and our years of hoops love, I offer you a mini-clinic on the set shot.

In seventh grade, I felt honored when my coach chose me to read an article on the set shot by Pistol Pete Maravich and then teach my fellow players how to do it. I only realized later that this was his subtle way of correcting my unorthodox elbow-akimbo shooting style.
An inspiration to aging hoopsters, Maravich died on the court at age 40. After, a pick up game with Focus on the Family's James Dobson, he said, "Let's do this again, I feel great." He then collapsed and died of a heart attack.

Back to the set shot, first, don't shoot like the old-timer at the top of the page--his form looks terrible--he's shooting with both hands and leaning forward crazily as he takes the shot. Second, you could try the BEEF method. Jason Rogers suggests that the coach should have some beef on hand for the lesson "or something that looks like beef (a large picture of a cow would be a good prop!)". After showing the prop, the coach should initiate a discussion about beef. "Ask students if they think that "beef" has anything to do with basketball? Anything to do with shooting a set shot? (The answer should be "no")." The coach then asks the students to list all the elements of a good set shot on the bulletin board. The coach then singles out the four responses that spell BEEF--Balance, Eyes, Elbow, and Follow-through. If only my coach had brought some beef to the gym--my stomach wouldn't have grumbled so much during wind sprints and I'd hold the NBA three-point title--though three-pointers didn't exist back then.

Coaches Clipboard has a very good page on the set shot. I especially like the Form Shooting drill that they show in the video clip.
Start with shots directly in front of the basket, just a few feet away, to develop correct technique. Shooting further away does not allow the shooter to focus on this repeatable form. Do this drill for just 5 minutes every day. Even experienced good shooters who are going through a "shooting slump" find this drill helpful in restoring their shooting mechanics and confidence.

Finally, 81-year-old Ken Lindsay's excellent Guide to Coaching Basketball also has a good page on shots of all types (and many other things), including the two-handed set shot--"This shot is hardly used by modern-day players; however, Bob McDermott, the best shooter I ever saw used it with great success. Therefore, it is described here because I feel it is the most accurate shot from long range." McDermott, who played in the 1930s and 1940s with the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, could hit reliably from anywhere inside half court--a skill he used to spread the zone offenses of his time. The one-handed set shot and the running one-handed shot were invented around the same time by Hank Luisetti of Stanford and then the Phillips 66ers and St. Mary’s Pre-Flight of the AAU (the ubiquity of the set shot evidently prevented them from calling themselves "Air" anything). Luisetti was named the second best player of the first half century behind George Mikan.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Players: This cat can ball!

Check out Charlie Murphy (Eddie Murphy's brother) on the Dave Chappelle Show recounting the time that he played hoops with Prince--"How about you and your friends vs. me and the Revolution".

I laughed so hard I woke up my baby! Apparently, Prince played for Central High School in Minneapolis. Below is is an MTV interview with Prince that mentions the game with Murphy:

Sway: I wanted to tell you this story first: I was watching the Dave Chappelle show, and Eddie Murphy's brother Charlie Murphy does this thing on it called "True Life Hollywood Stories," and he told this story that he was hanging out with you at your house, and you guys were listening to music, and then you came up with the idea to all go play basketball. He said they didn't have any clothes, so you got them shorts and T-shirts, but he said that your crew showed up to the basketball court with the same wardrobe [as you wear onstage]. High heels, suited and booted. Is that true?

Prince: That part's not true. But the whupping's true.

Sway: The whupping's true. So you've got basketball skills?

Prince: A little bit.

Sway: Yeah? What you got? A crossover dribble? Or a jump shot?

Prince: We didn't call it crossover back then.

Sway: What'd you call it?

Prince: Just speed.

Sway: Just speed? So you played when you were younger? And you still play?

Prince: Sometimes. Not so much anymore.

Drills: Hand-eye coordination

If you're jonesing for some buckets but you're stuck at work you're in luck--Slime Dunk Basketball.

This is your chance to settle the score between Argentina and Belgium (Manu Ginobili vs. Tony Parker).

The game is a little confusing. You lose a point every time that you get "pinged for goal tending"--but this actually appears to be something like a three-second violation. You can't be in the marked area under the basket for more than the allowed time.

I don't think I'm coordinated enough or patient enough to play it, but I think I would be willing to learn if Jeff challenged me. Maybe I'd have a chance in Slimeland--though I doubt it. Or maybe my wife will play me. It will give her a break from kicking my ass in foosball.

Friday, October 28, 2005

NBA: Chauncey's Back

I've been hearing a lot of good things about NBA blog Chauncey Billups (Fall Back Shaq...I'm Starting Now) which has been on some sort of hiatus. Well it's back and I'm glad of it. Here's what Chauncey had to say about negotiations between Pistons GM Joe Dumars and forward Tayshaun Prince:
Dumars held court on the subject of Mike Dunleavy Jr., a small forward with similar time served as Prince, who is on the verge of getting 50 million from the Warriors. When asked if Dunleavy's huge contract could impact his negotiations with Prince, Dumars replied:

"Yo, Chris Mullin can give Opie whatever he wants. Chris Mullin got a fucking Angel Dust problem too. That mean I gotta get me one of them? I saw Baron Davis hobbling down the ave. in Oakland talking 'bout ain't no half steppin'. That dude has 8 power forwards and J-Rich. Come see me when you're playing in May, Cock-Knocker."

We should probably move this to the trash talk section!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tips: How to suck at basketball

Charles Rempel at Van Gogh Goghs provides a detailed guide on "how to suck at basketball" in either "athletic" or "spaz" mode (Robin demonstrates the latter above). Rempel offers tips on wardrobe, running, catching, dribbling, shooting and etiquette. For catching tips--athletic mode, follow the jump.

Hold out your hands to your teammate, giving him or her a target. Then, when your teammate passes the ball, do one of three actions:

1. Turn your head right before the ball gets to you and try to catch it without looking. This gives the impression that you are trying to catch the ball, but also trying to attack the basketball before you control the ball. It looks like hustle. When you runback down the court on defense, point to yourself and say, "My bad."

2. Run away from the spot. This looks like you're trying to get open again, and makes the passer look like he missed his opportunity. Glare at the passer and point to your temple, signaling him to think next time.

3. Put your hands down to your sides immediately, then throw one hand up and try to scoop it to you. Now everyone thinks the passer was a little late passing to you. Glare at him or her and pointedly ask them why they didn't throw the ball earlier, when you were open.

Etiquette: When should I call fouls?

When I was coming up in the not-so-mean streets of South City, Wichita, KS, my friends and I called or didn't call fouls based on the situation. When we played among ourselves, we almost never called them. Fouls were for punks. If you went up strong enough you should score whether you get fouled or not. It was like a form of training for all the three-point plays in our future. One of our favorite games was hustle (21) with no fouls, no out-of-bounds, no backcourt, and tip-ins worth three. If you added beer, it got pretty brutal.

But when we took our daily two-mile hike to Lynwood rec center, things were a little different. We rarely called fouls there either unless they were hard ones that really altered our shot and the game was close. But we rarely needed to call them, because usually the guy who fouled you would call it himself. And if we fouled someone, we would do the same. Not only that, but people generally tried to play clean. I know it sounds like a church picnic, but that wasn't it. Lynwood was a place that people came to from all over the city--from four different high schools--East, West, South and Bishop Carroll. And Lynwood, like basketball courts in most cities, was one of the few places where whites and blacks interacted in public. There were even lesbians. People had to get along and wanted to get along. Basketball was a common language and people with skills and the right ethic had each other's respect. Calling the fouls you committed was a way of showing that respect.

On an anonymous court in Berkeley, I recently encountered a different foul-calling code of ethics. You call everything because winning depends on it. And in fact, not calling fouls means you're a punk because you're not standing up for yourself and your team. And if you don't call fouls, the other guy will simply foul you again, but more brutally, because you've allowed him to do it. Not only must every foul be called, but every foul must be disputed. And only punks back down from confrontation. For me, it's not a lot of fun. I think this ethic is accentuated because there is only one court and a lot of people are waiting to play, but it also seems to be a particular form of machismo. It's interesting that machismo can be expressed by either being too tough to call a foul or so tough that you call all fouls without fear of a beatdown. Needless to say, I don't play there anymore.

Other foul-calling codes?

Strategy: Talking trash

I've never been a good trash talker on the court, but I do appreciate its artistry. The best trash talker I've ever known was the 3rd string PG for Northeastern U. His name was Lawrence, but everyone called him "Uzi" because of his prolific shooting. Uzi was only about 5'7" -- but an amazing player. He would play regularly in the pickup games at the gym and dominate. No one could stop him from scoring, as he had unlimited range and could finish in a variety of ways inside, including posting dudes up. He also controlled the glass because of his athleticism, awesome court intelligence and surprisingly long arms. And Uzi could just break a guy with his incessant trash talk.

He loved to tell the big doofy guys that they were "wastes of height" and then count off his rebound total, and theirs, over the course of a game. "I just got my fifth rebound. You're 6'4" and you got two. Oh, there's my sixth. You still at two by the way." If you ever talked back to him and his team beat yours, you'd never hear the end of it. He'd spend the entire break between games picking on every single flaw in your game, personality and appearance. ("Hey, Great White Dope, Tragic Johnson, where'd you get them shoes? Those shoes are too nice for you. People might look at 'em and think that you can play.")

I loved Uzi. We were basketball friends, so we never got into it with each other. Plus, he was about 100 times better than me and would have crushed me if I ever displayed any impertinence. The truth is that he was actually kind of a role model to me and the other gymrat guards, and whenever I heard him talking smack to someone, I liked to imagine that it was me with all that confidence and bravado, getting into some big doofy guy's head.

Share your own tales of trash talk below.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Psychology: Corrections, mental illness, and the aging hoopster

A number of Setshotters have forwarded this along to us. It's been floating around the internet for a few days now. Here is text from the Arizona Daily Star (10/21/05):

"A 27-year-old man demanded extra prison time because he wanted to honor his basketball hero, Larry Bird.

A lawyer for Eric James Torpy reached a plea agreement with Oklahoma City prosecutors for a 30-year jail term on two charges of shooting with intent to kill and one count of a weapons violation, District Court Judge Ray Elliott said in a telephone interview.

Torpy then insisted on getting 33 years to match the uniform number Bird wore when he led the Boston Celtics to three NBA championships during the 1980s, Elliott said. The judge on Oct. 18 accommodated his request.

"He told his attorney that Larry Bird was his longtime hero, and that if he was going to go to prison he wanted to go down with that number," Elliott said.
Under Oklahoma law, prisoners must serve 85 percent of their sentence before being eligible for parole, Elliott said. Torpy understood that and told his lawyer that it didn't matter, the judge said.

"In 26 years, I've never seen an individual request more time," Elliott said. "They're generally begging and pleading for less time. But he was as happy as he could be."

Bird, a three-time NBA MVP who is now an executive with the Indiana Pacers, did not immediately return a message left at his office.

"Maybe Bird will autograph a jersey for him," Elliott said."

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Fantasies: Could you score on an NBA player?

Cary and I have this conversation all the time, so he suggested that I post about it and solicit opinions. Basically, the question is whether or not you could score if you played one-on-one against an NBA basketball player who was playing his absolute hardest. And since it can be anyone from the league, from the best player to the worst, the question is really: Could you score on the worst player in the league? (Relatedly, who is the worst player in the league?)

Obviously, if you played D1 ball or something, you might say yes and you might be right. But personally, I don't think that I'd score one single point against an NBA player. I think he'd steal the ball or block my shot on every possession. These guys are world class athletes. And remember that he'd be playing as hard as he could. Maybe we tell him that if his opponent scores even once, we'll make him wear Stockton-shorts for the rest of the season.

Cary sees my point of view, but he thinks that one might be able to get off some insane hook shot that would go in 1 out of 20 times. I say that if Kwame Brown or Rick Brunson or Bostjan Nachbar wanted to, he could reject every one of those hook shots into the press box.

Ok, feel free to weigh in on this topic. Some related questions for discussion:

1. Could you score on a WNBA player? Could you beat her one-on-one? Would it make a difference if she was cute?

2. Same question for baseball. Cary thinks he could hit .020 to .030 in the major leagues. I'm not sure. The issue is how many hits you could get by randomly sticking your bat out there. Maybe bunting a lot would help.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Relationships: Where do you fit in?

No one wants to be the worst player on their team. That's no fun at all. But which do you prefer: to be the best player on your pickup team, or to be a role player? I think that there are arguments to be made for (and against) both.

Because Old School and I play at parks where the level of competition varies widely from game to game, there are times when I am the best player on my team, and other times when I am not nearly the best. I'm not sure which I prefer. Being the main offensive threat and de facto leader of my team definitely makes my ego feel good, but it also bestows a sense of responsibility that I do not always want. When we win, it feels great. When we lose, I am filled with doubt and self-criticism. Also, if I'm the best player on the team, it means that our team is not all that good.

On the other hand, being the fourth option isn't so hot either, especially on a selfish team where I'm not going to get a lot of touches. When I feel neglected by my teammates, I am less inclined to work hard and do things that will ultimately go unnoticed and unappreciated. The other night I was playing in this exact situation. I was the fourth or fifth option on my team, which was full of ballhogs. I barely touched the ball, and scored maybe twice in three games. To make it worse, every time I touched it, my teammates would start screaming "Jeff! Jeff!! Jeffrey! Here! Right here! JEEEEEFFFFFFRRREEEEEY!" This rattled me and made me insecure, and I played well below my abilities. Our team won over and over again, but I felt no satisfaction.

I guess that my ideal situation is to be the second scoring option and the first ballhandling option on a team of unselfish players. But this does not happen often, and I need to find ways to better deal with the more common situations mentioned above.

Setshot would love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Careers: Has age changed your game?

I thought I'd follow up Old School's retirement post with another perspective on handling the ravages of time. I think that anyone who plays ball beyond their prime has got to consider changing the way they play.

This issue is beginning to loom large for me, as I am a guard, and get by primarily on speed and quickness. At 31, I'm not getting any faster or any quicker, and my vertical is approaching Cherokee Parks-like patheticness. Luckily, I am still agile enough to hold my own in most pickup games, but the time has obviously come to think about adaptation. Ain't no intelligent design bullshit on the court; you either gotta evolve or go the way of the dinosaur.

Here are some things I've done to compensate for the effects of age:

1. Play without ego. Think about the whole game, and every single thing I can do to benefit the team. This includes a lot of unglamorous stuff like setting screens off the ball and making "the pass that leads to the assist." Also, play better defense.

2. Think harder about team selection. I realize now that playing with unselfish, hardworking players is better than playing with talented self-centered players. When I put together Yellow Fever -- my 2004 NYU intramural squad -- I mainly looked for players I knew who were nice, unselfish, and diligent. While we didn't win the championship, we advanced fairly deep into the playoffs, and we had a great time the whole season because we all got along and respected each other on the court.

3. Shoot better and with range. I can't get to the hoop like I used to, and am unwilling to absorb the degree of contact that I could in my early twenties. So I have become more selective about when I drive, and what will happen when I get into the lane. Jump-shooting opens up my options a lot. I need to keep my defender off balance by convincing him that I can hit 18-20 footers with consistency. This is a mental game, and when it is successful, it becomes easier to drive, and I find a lot more ways to force awkward defensive rotations without getting whaled on.

4. Misdirection and chicanery. No-look passes are not enough. Now, I try to use my entire body and soul to convince the defender that I'm passing left before dishing right. I've developed a bunch of ballhandling tricks which are not always effective, but when they are, they can be demoralizing. I also have some off-the-ball fakes, like pretending to follow the trajectory of a shot with my eyes. When the defender turns to look at the (nonexistent) shot, I run away from him. Here's another one: when my opponent has tipped the ball and it is going out of bounds, but he still has a shot at it, I run towards the ball and pretend I'm going to save it. I get close, but instead of saving it, I just let it go. It's still out off him, but he will have instinctively backed away from the action, or hesitated too long to get the ball.

5. "Clean-dirty" play. I never try to hurt anyone, but am not too proud to hold someone's shirt for a second to disrupt a fast break, move a little on screens, or give a gentle poke in the belly-button when I arrive late on a shooter (this really works).

Add your own strategies for dealing with the effects of age below.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Tips: How can I stop Jeff from schooling me?

From an anonymous reader (no, it's not me) comes the following question: "How do I stop Jeff's seemingly unstoppable "keep on head faking and twirling around until you finally give up and jump" maneuver he's been using against me for the last four years or so?"

I'll try to solve the Jeff problem below. Meanwhile, you can post your own questions here and we'll try to answer them.

Here's what I try to do. I watch his hips instead of his head or arms so I know where his body is going. When he finally leaves his feet I jump and try to block his shot. I almost never do--he's too quick, but I hope to alter it somewhat. Still, he frequently kills me with a ridiculous reverse layup. Come to think of it, this really isn't working so well for me. Any other ideas out there?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Careers: When should I retire?

In my late twenties, I witnessed a graybeard with a potbelly, a hunchback and a bad knee lurching after a rebound at the NYU gym. I was appalled. I'd already been having back problems of my own. I didn't want to end up like that. I resolved that I would quit at 30 and switch to something less taxing like swimming or tennis. But 30 came and went and I didn't retire. One evening at 33, I blew by my man, blew out my knee and sprawled into the lane. I'd never been in so much pain.

The doctor told me that I could either have ACL surgery or avoid sports with lateral movement. I chose surgery mainly because the doctor asked if I might want to play ball with my kid some day. I never intended to return to pickup ball, but the surgery and the recovery were so painful and laborious that I needed something to inspire me--and basketball became that thing. After several years of exercise and tentative forays onto the court, I'm finally playing a couple of times a week again.

But my friend Mike, who has retired, is always in the back of my mind. He just had his surgery for his third torn ACL--all from basketball. He misses the game, but not enough to risk another surgery.

The roster of the Sunday Morning Hoops Site at UT-Austin is full of knee injuries and Jason Jimerson, Professor of Pickup Basketball in Indiana, has now retired after knee surgery.

And yet I'm out there. I tell myself that it won't happen to me. I've been diligent about my rehab. I'm still doing all those leg exercises at the gym. I'm cross-training.

But after a few full-court games on Sunday, I had the worst knee pain since my surgery. I was worried at first, but it appears to be a temporary setback. Still, I should probably retire at some point. My body won't hold up forever and my game's definitely not improving (even with the addition of old man moves). But when? I still love the game. I love the movement, the complexity, the court-sense, the characters, the high-fives. I love blowing by my man. So when?

Here is you where you can post your own struggles with retirement (or non-retirement).

Players: Park prodigies

You ever see a little kid at the park who is just totally awesome? You know, the six year old who can dribble with both hands and hit threes better that you can? How does that make you feel?
I've seen a bunch of these prodigies over the years, but I have one interesting personal experience. About five years ago, I spent four months in Prague. This was pre-Jiri Welsch, so basically, no one played ball there. I was always going to this crappy park near my apartment to shoot and do dribbling drills. The rims were literally eleven feet high, and the only people that played basketball were a bunch of little kids from the neighborhood. I made friends with them, and would conduct basketball lessons in exchange for conversations in Czech. (I spoke Czech on a pre-school level, but was trying to improve.)

There was this one kid who totally stood out. Denisa was an eight year old girl -- small and quiet, but she had some of the best raw hoops talent I've seen. I would show her dribbling drills, and she would pick them up IMMEDIATELY. Not easy stuff either, but difficult drills with both hands. And she would hit with consistency on the eleven foot rim. Almost every time I went to the park she was there practicing, with her grandparents watching her from a nearby bench.

There was a critical moment that really showed me that Denisa was a baller. I was running a goofy 5-on-5 with nine kids, including her. Another kid accidentally hit her hard in the face and she went sprawling. It was a serious shot. Everyone froze. Without a word, Denisa got up and leaned her head against the fence. We all went up to her to see if she was ok, but she waved us off. Then she turned around, wiped some tears out of her eyes, and resumed play. I was like, "Damn! Is this kid built to hoop or what?"

She'd be about thirteen now. I wonder if she's currently ripping up the eastern bloc middle school leagues, and whether I'll spot her in the WNBA in a few years.

Do you know any prodigies? Tell us about them!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Careers: The decision to go pro

Did you know that anybody can register for the NBA draft? It's free, and very easy.

I did this in 2000. A friend told me that I would have to write a letter to David Stern stating that I was giving up my remaining college eligibility (I had four years left) and declaring myself available for drafting. The NBA sent me back an application and a form letter saying that I would be entered into the draft upon the application's return. Some highlights from my application:

Height: 5'8"
Weight: 135 (my skinny days!)
Number of years played high school basketball: 0
Number of years played college basketball: 0
Other relevant information or special skills: Excellent sense of color. The ability to love unconditionally.

On draft night 2000, I was in a bar in NYC, and very drunk. I had no idea that the draft was taking place that night, until I looked up on the big screen TV and saw my competition lumbering around in horrible suits and poorly-fitting caps: K-Mart, Stromile Swift, Joel Przybilla. Unbelievable! Przybilla becomes an instant millionaire and I'm drunk in a dive bar! Joel Przybilla certainly does not have the capacity for unconditional love. And what, may I ask you, does the NBA need more? Another big clumsy benchwarmer, or someone who can finally love professional hoopsters the way they deserve to be loved?

I was too traumatized to try for the CBA, and became a sociologist instead.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Players: Playground taxonomies

It appears that one of the biggest cliches in pick-up basketball writing is the taxonomy of playground ballers. In fact, I remember writing one for Sister Eustacia's English class in ninth grade. An earlier post mentioned the The Spaz, The Fat Kid Who Stands at the Three-Point Line All Game, and The Guy Who Calls a Foul No Matter What. There have also been posts and comments on the Ballhog, the Coach, and the Big Mean Guy.

The following links offer detailed taxonomies. None are great, but they give a sense of the genre.

For profiles of the Shit Shot Artist, the Quick Whistle and the Labrador Retriever click here.

For the Rocket Arm and the Kung Fu Master, click here.

And for a discussion of which NBA players fit which types, including Reggie Miller as the Guy Who Calls Too Many Fouls, and Jon Barry as the Guy Who Just Bought an And 1 Mixtape, click here.

Add your own types below.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Equipment: Old baller aids

Sometimes aging hoopsters have no choice but to resort to artificial means.

Having trouble with your set shot? Integrate fifteen minutes of shooting practice into your morning with Rub-a-Dub Hoops. Or into your commute with pickup hoops. Need help with your dribbling? The Rock Handle. Not quite as tall as you used to be? Inserts, man!

Relationships: Can we just not be friends?

Basketball relationships are funny. You can play with someone all the time and have absolutely no idea what they do for a job, where they are from, or even their real name.Every week, you cruise into the gym, slap the same hands, and say the same thing: "Yo, Johnny, Stretch, White Shaq, what's up? You got the next one? Can I get on?" Meanwhile, Johnny just came from his shift at the soda factory, Stretch spent the morning grading astrophysics exams, and Shaq had to get up early to do a porno shoot. You don't know any of this, and have little desire to find out. Then, the next time you're watching amputee dwarf porn on pay-per-view, there's that dude from the gym plowing some screaming, armless midget.

Don't get me wrong. I've made a lot of real friends over the years through basketball. But there are countless others that have come and gone. I think this is true for most of us. You play with a person all the time, and then one day they've just disappeared. Other times, you're the one who leaves. What do you do? Go to the gym in street clothes and say goodbye to everyone? But on any given day, only some of your hoops buddies will be playing. How many times do you have to go? And do you even pretend that you're gonna stay in touch? No offense, but if you think that I'm gonna be friends with some creepy fetish porn actor, you've got another thing coming.

Setshotters: Any wisdom to share here? Similar experiences? Exit strategies?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Players: Aging Hoosiers

Jason B. Jimerson, Professor of Pickup Basketball, and his crew have made a half-hour documentary, "Shirts and Skins: The Sociology of Basketball" about the gym scene at Indiana University. There are some excellent clips on their website. Don't miss "fouls" which demonstrates a brutal moving pick and "female acceptance" which shows that cross-cultural understanding is still possible. The stars of these clips are pictured here.

Jimerson, who according to his blog has retired due to a knee injury, also has a nice list of pickup basketball books at Amazon

Moves: Tricks of the trade

Getting old sucks. Especially for ballers. The legs slow. The eyes get weak. Injuries accumulate. But Setshot is here to bring you hope! Many aging ballers have developed a specialty move. These moves are often rooted in chicanery and misdirection, as opposed to athleticism, and are a way for us to counter the superior quickness and hops of younger players.

I've developed a few such moves over the years. My favorite is getting the ball near the basket, tucking it between my legs, and throwing a fake pass around my defender. If he bites, he will turn to see where the ball has gone, whereupon I retrieve the rock from between my legs and lay it in. In addition to utilizing the strengths of the older player (the mind!), this move has a certain streetball appeal that the young folks like. Whenever I pull this off, kids on the sidelines will invariably ooh and ahh.

Thanks to Cary and Mothy for suggesting this topic. Here is a space where we can share our secret moves with each other.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Strategy: What should I do when my team is misusing its talent?

Tonight, I had a good 4 on 4 full court run. The only problem was that my team lost back to back games by close margins because, in my humble opinion, we weren't using our assets appropriately. We had two big tall guys who tried to play guard all game. One of these was the most talented player on the team, but it didn't do us much good. Meanwhile, the short guy, an excellent ball handler who could have easily played point, was at forward. All game our big guys shot jumpers with nobody underneath to rebound, plodded up the court--killing our transition opportunities, or penetrated (which was fine with me, if they would also distribute a little). First, I asked the short guy if he could take over the point. He agreed, but didn't actually do it. Then I tried to take point myself. Unfortunately, the big tall guys (who may have been friends) wouldn't give it up. They wouldn't throw me the ball on the inbounds or the outlet (and as they were the tallest, they got most of our team's rebounds). I finally gestured to the self-appointed point guard to give me the ball at the top of the key, but he wouldn't. "Aren't you a forward?" I said. He just smiled and kept doing what he was doing. We lost another game. I see this all the time, we have plenty of talent, but misuse it. And typically, I have trouble convincing people to listen to me--I think because I'm not the most talented player on the court and my moves are a tad old school. Why do people insist on playing the wrong position for their team's needs? Why won't anybody listen to Old School? Maybe I should just let go. But I like to win.

Relationships: Best chemistry

Sometimes, you play with a person that you just absolutely click with. Stockton and Malone. Jordan and Pippen. Nash and Stoudamire.

When I was a teenager playing at Temple Field in the Wapp Diggity, I had a buddy named Rusty that I had awesome chemistry with. For about two years straight, we were an unbeatable 2-on-2 tandem. Rusty had barely played any basketball before he was about 14. When he started playing, he found that he had an uncanny talent for long-range shooting. With a weird (and very quick) Tim Hardaway kind of release, Rusty would just KILL you from the outside if you left him open. He had NBA-three range by the time he was 16. Rusty was a perfect complement to me, as I was a poor shooter, but very good at getting to the basket and finishing. We ran two plays. One: I drove to the basket and kicked to Rusty, who knocked down the trey. Two: A give-and-go that ended with me receiving the ball in the lane. If the defense doubled, I'd kick it back out. If not, I'd try and find a good shot near the hoop.

Our top rivals were Tony and Gooch - two other local kids. Tony and Gooch would give us good games, but we were a touch better and they rarely won. One reason for this was that they would always end up fighting when they started to lose, while Rusty and I would take a time out and try to figure out what was going wrong. Chemistry almost always won in the end, and after the games, Rusty and I would guzzle a cold two-liter bottle of Crystal Pepsi in celebration, then retire to my house to watch 21 Jump Street.

Your turn. Tell us your best chemistry stories here.

Players: Aging Longhorns

A friend referred me to this site, which chronicles a regular pickup game at UT Austin (now apparently defunct). The player profiles are great, and a bunch of the nicknames made me laugh out loud. A few favorites: "Vanilla Smoothie," "Schayes," and 'The Accomodator."

Anyone else know of other aging ballers online?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Psychology: Dogs should stick to poker

Do your sagging skills threaten your manhood? It could be worse as Ira Berkow writes in To the Hoop: The Seasons of a Basketball Life:

And that night I had a dream: a rottweiler was biting my ear. He and the owner were on the sidelines of a game at Sullivan High School in Chicago, where I had played as a teenager. I was without sneakers and in stocking feet. The owner said, "My dog will stop biting your ear if you promise not to play anymore....

Isaac Herschkopf, a Manhattan psychiatrist and fellow pickup basketball player, interpreted the dream for me:

"Your ears represent your testicles," Ike began. "You felt very emasculated on the basketball court. It was something you've been good at, and proud of, and you were playing with younger guys, and yet on this day were not able to compete to your satisfaction.

"Rottweilers and Doberman pinschers are known to go for the balls. The dream expresses your anxiety, but it does so in a such a manner that it doesn't wake you up because it disguises it.

"The only two pairs of organs that dangle from your body are your earlobes and your balls. The earlobes are wonderful symbolic representations of your testicles."

Players: Famous people you've hooped with

One thing that aging ballers love to do is tell stories about famous players they've played with or against. When I was in college at Northeastern U. in Boston, there was a lot of reminiscing from the older players about Reggie Lewis, who allegedly used to dominate the pickup games at the gym. The best player I ever played with at NU was Wayne Turner (from Kentucky, and briefly, the NBA). He was a native Bostonian who would occasionally come to the gym and crush everyone. It's good to play with guys on that level once in a while, as it really puts you in your place basketball-wise. Turner was not just an amazing player; he actually seemed like a different species of human from the rest of us, able to do things that our bodies could not even conceive of, and capable of exploiting impossibly small gaps in the defense.

But my favorite famous-person-that-I've-played-with is Ira Glasser - the long-time director of the ACLU, now retired. Glasser was well known for playing in the pickup games at NYU, and I would see him at the gym all the time when I was procrastinating grad school work. He was friendly with everyone, and could always be found playing 3-on-3. He was/is actually a pretty good player, with a reliable set shot and keen passing skills. A truly dignified aging baller, he seemed to have adapted to the limitations of age and made full use of his remaining abilities. Seeing Glasser play, I always thought that I would want to be playing his kind of cerebral game when I reach my sixties.

Here is where you share your stories about famous people you've played with. You must say whether they were good or sucky.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Courts: Katrina evacuees ball in the Astrodome parking lot

The New York Times reports that New Orleans' fabled pickup basketball scene has found a temporary home in the parking lot of the Houston Astrodome. Fifteen hoops have been set up. Previously, kids were shooting into trash cans.

Here is where you tell of the strangest, best or worst places that you've played.

Friday, September 30, 2005

History: The Greatest Pick-up Games

What is your greatest game? Mark Bazer offers a riveting account of his, featuring--Ball Hog, The Spaz, The Fat Kid Who Stands at the Three-Point Line All Game, The Guy Who Calls a Foul No Matter What, and The Girlfriend in Tight Jeans On the Sidelines.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Relationships: A bully made me feel bad

I'm taking a break from playing at Live Oak. Because of a fight. Not a physical fight, a verbal one.

I was playing there a few weeks back, and ended up on the same team as the notorious Big Mean Guy (BMG), who is actually fairly well known around Berkeley for being big, mean, and insane. He's also an aging baller, but he is not handling it well. He talks CONSTANTLY, and feels compelled to coach on every play. It's not so bad playing against him, but playing on his team is a nightmare. If you make a mistake, he'll criticize you instantly and vociferously. If you do something good, he takes the credit ("THAT'S what I'm talkin' about. That's what I've been telling you to do.") No one likes playing with Big Mean Guy.

Anyway, back to the game. Again, me and BMG are teammates. He's talking/coaching to me on every play, because our other teammate was a Live Oak "old head" and friends with BMG. BMG always picks on who he perceives as the psychologically weakest player. That would be me. I took it for one game, which we won, and which I played well in. Foolishly, I thought that he would let up in the 2nd game because we won the 1st and I carried a lot of the defensive load (BMG made me cover the best player on the other team). Wrong. It gets even worse.

Now I'm near the breaking point. I don't want to fight with BMG because he does not listen and it is impossible to reason with him. At the same time, I'm having some racial guilt, because BMG is a black dude and I'm wondering: "If this guy was asian or white, wouldn't I have spoken up by now?" So I decide, against my best instincts, to start making snide comments to him about his coaching. BAD IDEA. He freaks out, gets right in my face, and starts yelling. I try to be calm and reasonable. No dice. He keeps yelling. He wants me to back down and admit that he's right. He's saying, "if you can't play in our system, we'll get another player." Now I'm torn. I don't want to play anymore, but pride won't let me walk off. I decide to just check the ball in and try to resume play, but I can't resist making another snide comment. BAD IDEA. Now he won't let the game continue, and actually kicks me off the team. I leave the court, ashamed and fuming, vowing never to return.

I actually did go back to Live Oak a couple weeks later. BMG was there, but we did not speak. I heard him bragging loudly about another argument he had been in the day before, and realized that he had probably had so many fights since ours that he didn't remember our fight. This made me even angrier, as I had been all torn up about it for days and he probably only thought about it for about 10 seconds. I am too sensitive.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005