Monday, April 10, 2006

Fantasies: Could you score on an NBA player on your home court?

The most popular Setshot post of all time considered the question above. A second post provided a quasi-empirical test. Now for another stab. I had always imagined my faceoff with Paul Shirley on some NBA court--say the Garden. The lights would be dimmed in the house, other players would be shooting around after practice, and I'd be shitting bricks about just stepping on to such hallowed hardwood.

But I recently came across some photos of Steve Nash playing pickup with some regular joes in Tribeca (also see the story referencing this and accompanied by some cheesy boudoir photos of Nash).

Eureka! What if Shirley came to my court? Surely, this would give me an edge of some sort? I could force him to dribble over that annoying crack in the pavement or choose the backboard that tilts at a 75 degree angle.

Are you with me?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

NBA: Your fave all time starting five

So, if all of you setshotters had to pick a starting five that you would love to watch play for an afternoon, (assuming all players are in the prime of their career), who would be on it? I would have to go with the following:

PG Muggsy Bogues
SG Earl Boykins
SF Michael Cooper (for the socks and the D)
PF Charles Barkley circa his days with the Sixers
C Manute Bol

Not much else to this post, but it'll be interesting to see who people come up with.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Psychology: cheap tricks in pickup games

Admittedly or not, each of us has some cheap tricks on the basketball court. A week ago I ran in a full court game where I had the misfortune of playing against this guy--more than likely some kind of triathlete--whose game was basically predicated on sprinting down the court after every made basket before the defense could get back, and cherry picking easy layups all evening. It was kind of legit, but pretty annoying all in all. Since the guy on my team assigned to guard him basically took the night off on D, I was left with the unenviable task of running wind sprints all night to prevent this.

As we advance in age, we need to make up for our lack of athleticism by doing whatever possible to get an edge. Jeff has devised an unstoppable move of simply turning around and around again until you finally bite on a head fake that allows him to shoot an easy layup. I like to grab jerseys and throw some 'bows every so often after grabbing rebounds, and sometimes my forearms do the talking when I get beat to the spot. So I ask fellow setshotters: What are the best (or worst) cheap gimmick moves you've seen people use to fight off the effects of diminishing athletic skills?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

NBA: Save the Knickerbockers

Man, what's going on with the Knicks? It was only a few years ago that they were an intimidating defensive stalwart holding opponents to low scores and thugging their way to the top of the Atlantic Division. Last night their new vaunted backcourt of Marbury and Stevie Franchise gave up 46 points to Gilbert 3 quarters! Although I've never been a huge Knicks fan, I do pine for the days when they were a force in the east, and their rivalries with Miami and Indiana made the NBA fun to watch. That organization is a mess, and most people are pointing fingers at Isiah Thomas and the Knicks top brass. My question to my fellow Setshotters is if you were the GM of the Knicks, how would you start to clean up the mess...

...given that many of the squads draft picks have been mortgaged away, and high-rent, long-term contracts for players like Jerome James are keeping you at the salary cap limit. To make matters worse, New York fans and media are too impatient to rebuild, thus perpetuating the cycle of trading away your future players for overpriced aging talent. Where do you begin? And I wonder if somehow we can get Woody or Soon Yi to chime in on this one? Should the Knicks turn to the IMF for help?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

NBA: New Ideas for All-Star Week

Let's face it. NBA All-Star weekend has gotten pretty boring. That skills thing is silly, and the dunk contest has basically become an excuse to show candid shots of P-Diddy, AI, and Dirk clowning around for an hour with Eva Longoria looking impressed on the sideline. It seems like it's time to gets some new, creative events out there for All-Star weekend.

Jeff suggested the excellent idea of a game of horse between NBA stars, although in his typical modesty he attributed the idea to someone else. I think maybe a 2-on-2 game featuring teammates might be fun to watch. I would like to see what our readers think would be some good new events to liven things up...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Careers: Playing for peace

UConn hoops fanatic and friend of Setshot Suzanne referred us to this organization. "Playing for Peace" is a non-profit agency that bridges social divides, develops future leaders, and educates kids through basketball. Their modus operandi appears to be getting kids from opposing social and political groups to play ball together: white kids and black kids in South Africa, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.

It looks like they're getting some good publicity. Steve Kerr is an advocate, and the Dalai Lama (pictured) is reported to have been breaking ankles and backboards at a recent exhibition, earning the streetball nicknames "Monky Business" and "Transcendental Conflagration." (Ok, I made those up.)

Playing for Peace has a bunch of interesting-looking job opportunities at its various sites. It could be a good way for the aging baller to prolong his involvement in the game while doing good in the world.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Psychology: Your greatest hoops moments

After several months of being on the shelf with plantar fascitis, I finally played some three on three pickup ball at USF's Koret Center. I don't know what happened. My team won several games in a row, despite our obvious physical shortcomings--both my teammates were well over 50, all of us were balding, and two of us were under 5'8. The guy guarding me, a bratty looking undergrad who saw me hobbling and wasn't taking me seriously at all, started talking smack and challenging me to shoot, which I did...

...I hit about 4 in a row, slicing through the lane like a slow, gimpy Steve Nash, later dishing to open shooters for treys or scoring on dribble penetrations and once on a hop-step move. I even knocked down some treys in the dude's face directly after he had been challenging me. I wanted to shout "whaaaaaaaat!!!!!!" but fortunately reason got the better of me. Maybe it was just the fun of playing for the first time in so long now that every game might be my last, but it was one my greatest pickup hoops moments of all time.

I now ask the good members of Setshot a simple question: What are some of your greatest moments playing pickup ball?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Video games: What to do when injured

The last several months I've been on the DL from playing basketball due to plantar's fascitis. Unfortunately the only way to get my hoops fix has been from offering up lousy trades in fantasy sports and more importantly, bball video games. It leads to the natural topic for my fellow setshotters: What are the best hoops video games of all time?

My vote would go to NBA Jams, which cemented the phrase "he's on fire" into NBA lexicon forever as players like Jeff Hornacek and Charles Oakley did 720 dunks after making several shots in a row. Justin and I once had a good season of NBA 2K3 where I was inexplicably able to score 23 a game with Celtics reserve Eric Williams. Double Dribble was the best game for the Nintendo, even though there were certain spots on the floor where players would shoot 100% from 3-point land.

There's a couple of games that were fantastic in their day that get slept on: Arch Rivals, the original Atari video game that featured two stick figures walking back and forth and shooting on a two dimensional straight line representing the "hoop", and of course the classic Jordan vs. Bird, where an irate Janitor would come clean the floor and admonish MJ or Larry after shattering the backboard with a ferocious dunk.

Fellow Setshotters, what are your favorite hoops video games, and why?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Race: "Such a natural team leader..."

The other day at the gym I overheard a conversation about lilly-white Duke guard J.J. Redick, where a Caucasian man remarked that "...even though Redick is slow and can't dribble, (blah blah college team) tried everything to stop his 3-point shot, and they even put an athletic black guard on him, nobody could stop him...". After cringing, it brought up a lot of questions in my mind about the language of sports fans and journalism.

Among fans, even among well-meaning fans and commentators who mean no harm, there are a lot of troublesome examples of coded language in sports coverage, especially with the rise of ESPN, 24 hour sports business coverage from white guys in Armani suits, stats sports tickers, and most notably, fantasy sports, where everyday people simulate ownership of sports players and act as a fantasy GM of a sports team managing a fantasy roster of mostly black players.

White players coming into the league are almost invariably compared to Bird, regardless of their game. Yahoo!’s fantasy sports page features "The Big Board"” ranking players from 1-50 based on their statistical performance, mostly African-American players reduced to pure commodities ranked and evaluated somewhat like slaves on an auction block. In some fantasy sports leagues, players are drafted by auction, where owners ‘bid’ for the right to own the statistical production of athletes. When most of these athletes are African-American, is this a modern-day virtual slave auction going on?

In a recent conversation with Jeff, I was particularly critical of Ron Artest, whose recent shenanigans seriously damaged what could have been a very dangerous Indiana Pacers team. Jeff pointed out rightly that out that while Artest's actions breaking team rules by publicly demanding a trade and betraying his team were deplorable, it is common to hear the silent but racist language that insists that African-American athletes like Artest should shut up and be grateful for the huge piece of the pie they are given, even though it pales in comparison to that enormous reserves of almost exclusively Caucasian team owners who profit enormously from the labor of these athletes.

NBA players like Rasheed Wallace and Jermaine O' Neal have made attempts to publicly compare their situation to the situation of very well paid slaves and commodities, and the NBA, led by David Stern, has put the clamps down quickly on the dialogue. The NBA's recent dress code certainly smacks of trying to “whiten up the league" a bit. Phil Jackson, in his book The Last Season also quipped about Wallace that someone being paid $17 million dollars a year to play basketball and stay in four-star hotels has little basis to complain about being treated like a slave.

What are some other examples of racist codes in sports? Are the actions of African-American athletes problematized more than their Caucasian team owners in media? Are fantasy sports lovers unwittingly corroborating in a virtual dialogue revolving around racist notions of ownership? Is the notion of team really deteriorating in sports? Or is that just another code to justify playa hating African-American NBA stars who can do what normal slobs in offices can't?

I welcome the feedback of those wiser than I...

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Fashion: Posing for the team photo

The other day somebody ended up at Setshot after searching for "how to pose teams for a team photo". I'm sure they ended up disappointed. So I figured I might as well try to address their question.

After an unscientific image search on Google, I found that the most common pose was the front-facing two-row, though this also had its one-row, three-row, and four-row variants. The single-row could also be performed in profile.

More interesting poses (most from olden times) included "the indian-style" "the circle", "the semi-circle", the "I for Idaho", "the streetclothes", "the lunch line" and "the stairstep".

Finally, John Ibson in "Picturing Men" argues that displays of male affection in team photos have become more taboo over the course of the twentieth century. As examples, he provides "the bicep clutch" and "the pile" from the turn of the century.

Fundamentals: Old-timer basketball camps

One day I asked Jeff if he thought it was possible for somebody my age to improve his game. "Definitely", he said. But I'd hit a plateau. I was playing and shooting regularly, but nothing really changed.

I showed him my one move--catching the ball on the wing then looping around the man guarding the point and down the lane. He showed me a couple of variations on the move including one that involved going to my left. When I confessed I didn't have a very strong left hand (he feigned surprise, but was probably just being polite), he suggested that I dribble with two balls every day.

It sounded like a great idea, but I've never done it. I'm just not the type of person to do drills of my own volition. Which is why adult basketball camps have caught my eye. There are some crazy expensive fantasy ones--including those by Darryl Dawkins, Coach K, Rick Barry, and Michael Jordan ($15,000; see the story in Sports Illustrated), but perhaps, the more promising (and less expensive) one for me is Never Too Late Basketball (see the story in the NY Times). They have ten-week courses in Boston, San Francisco and New York for $175. They also do weekend camps around the country.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Courts: Can you feel the vibe?

Lately, the outdoor basketball scene in Berkeley has been really crappy. Since I'm a total hoops addict, I'll go out searching for a game and basically settle for anything. Which has got me thinking about courts' different vibes.

I went to Live Oak the other night with Pete and the Ivory Tower. We ended up playing three-on-three with a group of Live Oak regulars. There wasn't anyone there who could match the Ivory Tower's height (6'6"), so we won a whole bunch of games in a row. That's not the point. I just wanted it to be noted for the record. The point: Before one of the games, this dude looks right at me and says "Were you talking shit about me?"

I was not.

I say, "Um, no." He says, "Don't be talking shit about me" -- still glaring. Now I'm freaking out. He's there with about ten of his friends, and I am certain that they wouldn't think twice about beating my ass, or at least threatening to, which for me is worse.

So I decided to go and smooth things over. I sat right next to him, looked him straight in the eye and said "I swear to God, we were not saying anything about you. Your boys know me (they did), and they know I just come here to play ball and I don't start any trouble." After the longest second of my life, he goes "Ok man, cool." Needless to say, I was really really relieved.

But what the hell? Why did I have to deal with that? I feel like I'm always having trouble there -- see "A bully made me feel bad." That court has a BAD VIBE. I'm saying it. It's true. Guys play high and drunk. Guys are always griping and posturing, trying to one-up each other. Now this isn't true all the time. I've played in some really fun games there. But too often, something dumb happens and I end up feeling crummy. I was glad that I could defuse the situation with Stop Talking Shit About Me Guy, but it was embarassing to have to go over to him in front of all his friends, including some girls.

Conversely, Pete and I had a really nice run over at Ohlone last night. We played competitive games with friendly guys, and we all talked to one another between games. We didn't bicker about the score and there were barely any fouls called or committed. (Plus, Pete and I went undefeated.) I rarely have a bad time at Ohlone, except when no one is there. There was even one time when I was shooting by myself at 11PM and a cop pulled up beside the court and told me I had to go home. But I didn't mind because he was so nice about it, almost apologetic. Now that's a court with a good vibe!

Am I just too much of a wuss about this? When I bring this stuff up with other pickup players I meet, I often get blank stares in return, or vague uh-huhs. Guys always want to talk about how good the skills are, how tough the run is. I just want to talk about how much fun I had or didn't have and if I liked the other players. Maybe I'm getting old, or maybe I'm finally becoming a woman.

Friends of Setshot: Tell me that you think about these things too.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Could you score on an NBA player? A quasi-empirical test

A few months ago I wrote a post wondering whether an ordinary pickup basketball player could score against an NBA player if the pro was playing his absolute hardest. This post generated a fair amount of conversation, with most respondents thinking that they could not score.

Cary and I decided to explore this issue using the latest in basketball simulation technology: NBA2K6 for Playstation 2. We created a character called Joe Setshot -- a 5'8" small forward with knee pads, Stockton shorts and male pattern baldness. Setshot was given the lowest possible rating in every skill category (50), so as to best approximate the abilities of an average player.

Cary and I then conducted a totally unscientific test of the "Could you score?" hypothesis. We made Joe Setshot play one-on-one against three NBA players: Wang ZhiZhi, Paul Shirley, and Kobe Bryant, alternating users in an attempt to control for video gaming skill. Would our man be able to get a bucket? Results after the jump.

The first match was Setshot versus Wang ZhiZhi, whose player rating of 63 is among the lowest in NBA2K6. We played winners' outs. Results, with user in parentheses:

Wang (Jeff) 15, Setshot (Cary) 0

Wang (Cary) 15, Setshot (Jeff) 1

It was impossible for our man to stop Wang. The pro was too strong and too fast. As soon as Wang got the ball and started moving toward the hoop, Setshot would be bumped backwards until he was forced out of position, and the towering Chinaman would lay it in. I did manage to score one point during my turn as Setshot, but this happened because Cary/Wang turned his back on defense and I was able to get an open layup. It's important to note here that I have owned this game for about a month, and while Cary is an experienced video hoops player, it was his first time playing this particular game on this particular system. Even with this skill disparity, the match was obviously quite lopsided.

Our second series put Setshot against Paul Shirley, who is the lowest rated player in the game (53). Results:

Shirley (Jeff) 15, Setshot (Cary) 0

Shirley (Cary) 15, Setshot (Jeff) 4

Again, Setshot was completely unable to stop Shirley, with the pro hitting a variety of layups and short jumpers to control the game. However, Cary got distracted for a minute and I was able to score four points in succession during my turn as Setshot. As soon as Cary pulled it together though, Setshot was shut down and Shirley cruised to victory. Remember again that this was Cary's first time playing the game.

Finally, just for fun, we made Setshot play against an NBA star, choosing Kobe Bryant. Results:

Bryant (Jeff) 15, Setshot (Cary) 0

Bryant (Cary) 15, Setshot (Jeff) 4

As Bryant, Cary went into a Non-Persistent Vegetative State and allowed me to score four times in a row, but basically, it was all Kobe. He threw down an array of awesome dunks -- their sheer force often knocking our man clear off the court. Bryant also hit a variety of difficult jumpers and fadeaways, taking great pleasure in toying with his lesser opponent. Hilariously, the game's AI made Setshot talk trash throughout the contest, even asking "Is that all you got?" as Bryant flushed the game-winning dunk in his face.

So what can we conclude from this? I think the experiment was slightly corrupted by a discrepancy in user skill that allowed me to score a few times as Setshot. However, in general, it seemed clear that with the pro user defending competently, it was impossible for Setshot to get a clean shot off. And as soon as the pro got possession, the game was over. Furthermore, the Joe Setshot character was probably significantly better than the average pickup player. We set his skill level at the bare minimum, but my impression was that the average player would still be much worse. (Note to video game companies: Let the skill ratings go down to zero.)

I'll stand by my assertion that the typical pickup baller could not score on a pro if the pro was playing his hardest. However, I invite others to improve on our methodological design and contribute to this important area of scholarship.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Culture: Hoops Hits

The other day I was hooked up to my ipod and doing the elliptical trainer dance at the local Y when endorphins caused me to wonder what the best basketball songs are. The only songs that came to mind were the Michigan State fight song and Spearhead's "Why O Why" from Chocolate Supa Highway. I always liked that song because one line made me imagine that it was about Bergen St. in downtown Brooklyn where a bunch of us used to play--"all day to be more specific, east to west from Atlantic to Pacific". I just found out that Michael Franti (who is 6'6") played for the University of San Francisco Dons. I'd like to see him take on Prince. Other favorite songs?

Why O Why
I say my prayers every morning just like orange juice
I crack the crinkles out my body till I'm feeling loose
I strap my sneakers on my feet like they was combat boots
they fit my feet like Cinderella when I'm shooting hoops
Why oh why do memories keep chasing me
sometimes it makes me wanna grab my shit and flee
sometimes I wanna blow my brains to put my life at ease
but I ain't clocking out I gotta see the seven seas
please seven's a very lucky number for me
that was the age when I discovered how good balling could be
up every morning with the birdies doing little drills go to my
left go
to my right developing mad skills
how could a love for this game bring so much sadness
I played with brothas with so much badness
but now they gone I sing a song
pop a three from the top of the key in they memory

Why oh Why do memories be chasing me
sometimes it makes me wanna grab my shit and flee
even in seasons when it's another color sport
I still be memorizing lines out on the basketball court
singing Why oh Why do memories be chasing me
sometimes it makes me wanna grab my shit and flee
even in seasons when it's another color sport
I be remembering my partners on the basketball court

Do you remember runnin' the court in September
me and my homies be down for whoever
would come along and try to send us to the showers
from the game that we'd been dominating' there for hours
all day to be more specific
east to west from Atlantic to Pacific
fools would come round to get down
and try to take our crown
but we would hold our ground and we would never back down
old timers new timers would get in line there
and take a seat there and try to prepare
but oh no! there was no chance when we was in the zone
we was alone at the top we had hops we got props
and when we needed to we busted chops
wipe the court with your game like we was using mops
whatever happened to the super hoopers
in the park I reminisce while shootin' solitary after dark


Brother C came fresh from out of town and
he had handles and like McDonald's he could clown ya
dribbling baby bounces between drinking forty ounces
knock ya on your heels and do circles like he was Curly Neal
but oh no, the liquor got quicker to his head and he said
"I think I musta placed some stupid bets"
he hit me up for some cash there was a car crash
a splash and then the brother made a mad dash
Rob oh Rob his whole life was like a roller coaster
but on the court he looked like a Dr. J poster
flying high with an Afro blowing in the wind
wiping Windex, index finger rolls
off the glass then swish through the net
jump a Corvette with a triple pirouette
but off the court he had a few temptations
copulations no moderations by 24 he had 3 pregnations
last check crack intoxications
so many other brothers gone from this dimension
and none of those who got hurt receive a pension
give a Bup! Bup! to those locked up in detention
memories too many dimension
and we say, one more more time


Friday, January 13, 2006

New contributors!

Well, Old School and I have been pretty bad about posting lately. I think that this has in part been due to life responsibilities (our jobs, Old School's baby boy, my upcoming nuptuals), and also due to injuries that have been keeping us off the court (Old School: knee, me: ankle).

So we've invited some of our most devoted commenters to write posts for the site. Please welcome Cary, Juice and Mothy to our editorial ranks. Ben has also been added, though he is not sure if he will post. Let's hope he does!

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 (?).

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Psychology: The Like That Dare Not Speak Its Name

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that I am not a fan of the Duke Blue Devils. I suppose it is a natural byproduct of having a father who graduated from the University of Kentucky, and of my own matriculation at UCONN, Texas, and, most recently, NC State. My background surely helped to foster a deep dislike of Durham, North Carolina's most famous collegiate sports denizens, that and Dick Vitale's incessant shilling for the Blue Devils, to be sure.

One thing that I've noticed about Duke basketball players through the years (apart from their maddening youth-be-damned confidence, and the way they normally cream teams they're supposed to cream), is the way they seem to cling to each other during lulls in the action.

While you may assume I'm looking to shock readers with allusions of a "Brokeback Basketball" bent, I assure you I'm not. I'm just wondering if all the hugging, the hands resting on necks and shoulders, the fanny slapping, and other signs of physical intimacy during basketball games among teammates (especially Duke teammates, it seems) are nothing more than indicators of players' absolute acceptance of each other on the hardwood. I watch my beloved Kentucky Wildcats play and it seems like they're playing by strictly Victorian rules of physical contact. Could the answer to their current hoops woes be settled by some simple Magic-on-Isiah Thomas lip-to-cheek action? Is there something to this close-contact among teammates that signals total buy-in to the team concept?