We wore out the
bottoms of our Cons over the past eight years, trying to get a fix on the
essence of the culture of pickup basketball. Ultimately we were heartened by
how often a basketball broke the ice, especially in neighborhoods that seemed
strange to us, and where we no doubt seemed stranger still. Here are three
excerpts from our journal.
To eat or not to
eat, that is the question. Whether 'tis wiser to catch a quick bite before
heading to the gym (at the risk of cramps) or to hold off (at the risk of
anemia) in accordance with that adage about a hungry dog hunting best.... Every
type from Shakespearean scholars to school janitors has faced that 11:30 a.m.
dilemma. That's about when games get under way at college gyms around the
country, where noontime hoops can be as hallowed an institution as Old Siwash
At Brigham Young,
faculty and staff have the right to bump any student off the courts between
noon and 1 p.m. At Navy the regulars hew to the 85� rule: If the temperature is
above 85�, the skins are considered to be at an advantage, so the shirts get
first outs; below 85�, it's vice versa. The heating at North
Carolina- Greensboro's Coleman Gym (now closed for renovation) was erratic, so
winter games weren't run shirts versus skins, but more like sweatshirts versus
parkas. Across town, the Guilford College lunch bunch calls its thrice-weekly
noontime sessions "committee meetings," the better to get out of any
conflicting commitments that arise. And beware the three-on-three games at
Princeton's Jadwin Gym, where Tiger coach Pete Carril can put his antiquated
set shot—along with his stogie—in your face.
rituals are enacted at countless Y's and municipal rec centers. You undress on
the run, forgo warmups, play and hustle back to work. Hey, there isn't any time
So long as heaven
is a playground, does it matter? You get your manna from heaven.
This isn't a game
you'll necessarily want to get into. Then again, while the food's worse than
what you'll find on the outside, and the social life is worse, and as life
expectancy is worse, too, the ball—dare we say it?—just may be better,
culture spawns nicknames, just like schoolyard society. Ask the Trotters about
the bundle of buckets they surrendered at Attica to Kind John, so named because
he didn't off a fellow inmate who welshed on a cigarette bet after a one-on-one
game. Moses Malone banged with the prison crowd in Richmond, particularly with
The Milkman, so-called " 'cause he killed one, man."
The last word
belongs to an inmate at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a sky-rise clink
in Chi-town, where prisoners while away as much of their sentences as possible
at the outdoor slab on the 27th floor.