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

Coaching tip: The classic six-on-four break!

For eight points!

Nicknames: Asian Nash vs. White Shaq

I wanted to start a thread where people could post the best nicknames they've heard on the court. Over the last few years, a lot of people have called me "Asian Steve Nash." It's totally nice, and I'm happy for the comparison, but it's a lot to live up to! ("Asian Zoran Plananic" is probably more accurate.) One consequence of this is that I've become infatuated with calling certain white players the White This or the White That. I particularly like calling big white guys "White Shaq" or, even better, "White Yao."

I used to call one of my NYU hoops buddies White Yao, until he got an even better nickname. My buddy is a thin 6'6" math professor who got his degree from UC Berkeley, so some kids at NYU started calling him "the Ivory Tower," which was so funny it made my genitals fall off.

There's this guy who plays at Ohlone Park who's got a great lean physique and always plays with his shirt off. A couple of weeks ago, we started calling him "Bowflex." Love that one.

And of course, there's Old School, which is classic!

What are your favorites?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Relationships: Girl's Ain't Nothin' But Trouble

Interesting situation at Ohlone Park the other day. My team is playing against a team with a couple of young (17-19yo), but very talented, players. The girlfriend of one of the young guys is watching the game. I'm guarding the other young guy.

From the start, it's clear that the guy with the girlfriend is gonna be playing mainly to impress her. He barely plays defense, and shoots every time he touches the ball. His teammates are getting irritated. His girlfriend, meanwhile, is completely oblivious and text messages the whole time. Every time Boyfriend scores, he runs by Girlfriend with his chest puffed out; she could care less. In the end, they lose despite being the more talented squad. I think that they would have won if Boyfriend had been playing it straight. A telling moment: Boyfriend has a fast break opportunity (he never came back on defense), gets overexcited and botches a dunk. I turn to his buddy and say, "if his girl wasn't here, that woulda be a layup." His friend nods and frowns.

So what of this? It's tricky, but I feel that these situations can be manipulated. For example, you could funnel the ball to Boyfriend and force him into tough shots. But you don't want to go too far with this strategy because he might legitimately go off and score all the points. And the last thing an aging baller needs is to be near a young punk who's all smiles because he just won the game in front of his sweetheart. Your thoughts? Other strategies? Similar experiences?

Players: How will Judge Roberts fare on the "Highest Court in the Land"?

Not so well, say fellow Supreme Court clerks in the New York Times. "The Rehnquist clerks were a force to be reckoned with ''on that horrific cement court above the library,'' recalled James J. Brudney, a law professor at Ohio State who clerked for Justice Blackmun. But Mr. Roberts brought more enthusiasm than skill to the game. ''He played an aggressive style of basketball that left other co-clerks with the bruises to show for it,'' Mr. Knauss[a fellow Rehnquist clerk] said of Mr. Roberts. Professor Brudney recalled that Mr. Colson [another Rehnquist clerk] was the best athlete in the group and so was not shy about shouting commands. When one of Mr. Roberts's shots went awry one afternoon, Professor Brudney said, ''Dean Colson screamed 'way off!' to tell people where to position themselves.'' That did not sit well with Mr. Roberts. ''You heard this somewhat meek but still assertive voice,'' Professor Brudney said, recalling Mr. Roberts's words: '''Just ''off'' would have been sufficient."

The Rep: What if I object to the term "aging hoopster"?

According to there are quite a few alternatives. "He's a wily veteran. He's their elder statesman. He has great durability. He's lost a step or two. He won't retire until he gets that ring. He wants to go out on top. He's the only player left from their championship days. The fans still love him. He's a great role model. He's an ambassador of the sport. He's done so much for the game. It's only a matter of time until he's enshrined in the Hall-of-Fame. He gives a lot back to the community. He's an icon in this town. He's only played sparingly this season. What has he done for you lately? He's got a bad wheel. He must regain his past form. He's been the subject of trade rumors. He's being shopped around. He's past his prime. The game has passed him by. He's washed up as a player. When it stops being fun, it's time to quit. He'll keep playing as long as he can contribute. He'll know when it's time. It's time to start working on the golf game."


Strategy: What do I do about the ballhog on my team?

This question comes from myself and was the inspiration for this blog. I occasionally play in a noontime game that is filled with teens who only want to shoot. After another crappy outing, I decided to google "What should I do about ballhogs?" I didn't turn up anything and this site was born. I'll give the question my best shot, but I'm hoping our readers can help out some more.

Ballhogs are buzz kills. It's just no fun to play with them. My first instinct when I'm stuck with one is to hog the ball myself. But this is probably not the right approach. A team with two ball hogs will soon have five and you'll all be sitting out the next game.

The first thing I would suggest is to make sure the ballhog doesn't bring the ball up the court. Don't throw outlet or out-of-bounds passes to him and try to get some of the other players to do the same. If you're not playing guard, become a third guard, so that that you can work to keep the ball out of his hands. Ballhogs are often loudmouths. He'll complain. Tell him you are planning to throw him the ball. And then do. Just make sure that you only give it to him when he's in a decent position to score, not ten feet behind the three point line. If you've kept the ballhog from bringing up the ball and from running the point, it seems like you should have a good chance of distributing the ball to the whole team, including him--but only when it's appropriate. Other thoughts? And what to do when everyone on the team is a ballhog?

About your hosts

Your hosts are Old School, Jeff, Cary, Juice and Mothy. Old School and Jeff can be found at the playgrounds and parks of Berkeley, CA--especially Ohlone and Live Oak. Cary also plays in the San Francisco bay area when he's not on his couch doing an uncanny Todd MacCulloch impression. Juice plays in Brooklyn and Manhattan, NYC. Mothy can usually be found hanging on 9-foot rims in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Old School, 38, is a 5-11 forward/two guard from Milwaukee, WI. He wears black Adidas Concords and a knee brace (ACL reconstruction). His shorts climb further up his thigh with each washing. Being white and having an affection for floaters, other players sometimes call him "Larry Bird" (much to his dismay--see influences below). His last organized ball was in eighth grade with the St. Margaret Mary Tigers. His last pseudo-organized ball was in ninth grade with the Spurs of Wichita's Salvation Army League. His influences include Earvin Johnson, Gregory Kelser, Arvydas Sabonis, Manu Ginobli and his dad (with the mean hookshot). His greatest moment was scoring a career-high eight points for the St. Thomas Tartans Sixth Grade Team and being selected for the Twinkie award by his teammates. His worst moment was getting called for a moving pick (something he'd never heard of before) during overtime of that season's playoffs. Some favorite courts include: Avenue M and 19th Street, Midwood, Brooklyn; Bergen Street, Downtown, Brooklyn; James Madison Park, Madison, WI; Lynwood Recreation Center, Wichita, KS; and Griffenstein School, Wichita, KS.

Jeff, 33, is a 5-8 point guard from Poughkeepsie, NY. Being Asian, he is often called “Yao” and was once nicknamed “Ichiro” by a bunch of Ecuadorian guys. He wears black Reeboks and industrial-strength McDavid ankle braces. Unselected in the 2000 NBA draft, he has nevertheless had a mediocre career on several intramural and community league teams in Boston and New York City. In 2004, his final year of graduate school, he captained a team called Yellow Fever to the round of eight in the NYU intramural playoffs, where they were cruelly eliminated by a bunch of white dudes who were probably in a fraternity or something. Over the years, his favorite places to play have included Temple Field (the park across the street from where he grew up), Northeastern University’s old Cabot Gym, NYU’s Coles Sports Center, Bergen Street in Brooklyn, and Houston St. @ 2nd Ave. in New York City.

Cary (aka DJ Cary aka the Kuma) grew up on the mean streets of St. Louis Park Minnesota, where he spent nights perfecting his behind the back pass, slow crossover dribble, and left-handed fade away jumpshot on the hallowed grounds of the Minneapolis JCC and his neighbor Barry Miller’s slightly bent garage door hoop. Rumor has it that his vertical exceeded 23 centimeters on occasion, and that he could school anyone in the ‘hood in Double Dribble. Taking his game to the streets of New York City, he quickly became a playground legend at storied courts like Bergen St. in Brooklyn, the low-ceilinged and high-flying Hamilton Madison House in Chinatown, Cardinal Spellman High School, and the 2nd Avenue courts on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where he dominated the B-court filled with hung-over hipsters wearing knee high tube socks and vintage T-shirts for years. In 2004, Mayor Michael Bloomberg officially renamed the bench on the east side of the 2nd Avenue courts the “DJ Cary Honorary Bench” to pay tribute to his many hours spent hacking playground greats like Jeff, Juice and Ben.

Juice began playing basketball regularly at the ripe old age of 18, on the hallowed concrete courts of the University of Wisconsin's southeast dorms. He became known as "Whiplash," thanks to the frequent snapping back of his neck as he watched his two-handed, from-the-chest jump shots get swatted into the next ZIP code. This indignity led him to develop a one-handed jump shot ranked between Shawn Marion's and Patrick Ewing's in Slam magazine's annual "100 Ugliest Jump Shots" poll. Juice now resides in Brooklyn, New York, where he silently watches teens on the local courts fly through the air with grace and skill while a lone tear descends his cheek, pauses at his chin, and plummets, like his hoops-playing dreams, to the ground below.

Mothy (aka Vanilla Blur aka Vanilla Blob) grew up a Hoosier by birth, but a Wildcat Fan by the Grace of God. Embarrassed by his self-perceived boney knees in early childhood, he tried to conceal them behind thigh-high tube socks kept up with flooring-installer knee-pads through his 21st birthday. His dry wit rubbed his high school coaches the wrong way, and his hoops handle did not flower until his matriculation at UCONN where his intramural claim-to-fame was hanging on the rim at any and every opportunity. Just prior to his marriage to a track jock(tress) in 1997, Mothy breakaway dunked twice in a game on a [springy] second-storey Methodist church court in Fort Worth, Texas. Post-marriage, he is 0-for-397 on breakaway dunks, but his wily game and deceptive, flat-footed defensive posture was a staple at the University of Texas and on Austin's Pease Park and Fire Station Courts through 2001, before he relocated his Church of the Hardwood to NC State University. After adding another $65K in education debt to his kitty in North Carolina, Mothy recently moved his Hoops Congregation to Manchester, New Hampshire, where the jury is still out on how well hoops can be played with parkas, moon boots, and lumbering meese (?).

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How can I get my hoops questions answered?

Each week we will answer your questions about coping with and compensating for such issues as wobbly knees and ankles, a slow first step, "ups" deficiency and thigh-level shorts. Please post your questions (along with your brief B-ball bio) in the comments section of this post and let Old School, Jeff and our avid, though elderly, readers help you.