playing pickup ball

it’s that time of the year again… the NBA playoffs!

this year as we reach the round of 8 the usual notables are carrying the load for their teams.

but we must observe that there has been much talk about old players rewinding the clock to really step it up. players like KG and Duncan.

but what is so surprising about this? age is overrated to some extent. all this veteran moxie is undiluted by age. talent is talent no matter what. 36 year old power forwards carrying their teams towards the finish line. it’s hardcore man.

last night i went down to my neighbourhood court for the first time in… more than a year. it is strange. i am ghost on the court on which i used to frequent something like 5 times a week. all the people have changed. the people i used to play with are in the army. the people i used to watch are now older and slower. but there’s still something magical about playing pickup basketball. playing with people you have never played with before. there’s a sense of anticipation as you stare down the guy who has the ball in his hands.

he’s at the top of the 3 point line, and you give him a backyard worth of space. it’s the first time you are marking him and he decides to just shoot the 3. you put a hand up (for show) – it’s pickup at the neighbourhood court and you can’t get all in-your-face from the start, you know what i’m saying? it’s just not nice. maybe the second or third set, when there are bragging rights and respect to earn… maybe.

so the next possession its the same thing and he starts dribbling slowly. you can hear people running around behind you but then it’s pickup ball. the beauty of it is in individual expression and testing yourself. you have no idea what this guy can do – and its all the more fun because of that. he picks up his dribble and pulls a crossover. you stay with it. recover, hesitate, drive right – you lost him. okay, so now we know he’s fast.

the next time it happens again you shuffle your feet and you move to cut off his path to the basket. he runs into your chest and has to stop. spins, but you’re there. looks for the shot but your hand has been up there all the time. passes out to his teammate. score’s now tied at 1-1 for the two of you.

then it’s your turn as you have the ball in your hands. now you have maybe a rough measure of what this guy can do. you fake the shot but he doesn’t fall for it. same sequence – jab step, drive left, pull up, but he’s there to contest the shot. you let it fly because there’s a license on neighbourhood courts that you can from time to time toss up ill advised shots. but after a few you better prove that you can make them. basketball is a language of its own. it’s 5 personal battles going on and forming this messy chaotic tapestry that resolves itself into made baskets and mutual respect. there’s a joy in pulling off a difficult move and grinning as the ball falls into the hoop and two defenders are left in your wake. everyone on the court nods imperceptibly and you move on to the next possession. then suddenly this crazy long dude starts hopping around and grabbing every rebound in sight.

there’s the next challenge – boxing him out and keeping him off the glass then scoring on him inside. can you do it? no idea, but that’s the whole point.


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