Monday, March 30, 2009

Pickup Chronicles: Is Pickup Dead?

I wanted to start a series on pickup basketball as the weather warms up and more of us find ourselves wanting to replicate NCAA heroics on our local courts. It's called the "Pickup Chronicles" as a wordplay on the Chronicles of Narnia. Pickup ball is its own world at times, and I find that world fascinating and quirky. Here you have a situation where strangers from all walks of life come in, compete vigorously for hours, and then leave, often without even having spoken a word to each other except "Pick" and "Ball." If you take any time to study the dynamics, it's actually rather bizarre, and yet it works just fine for most of us. Here's one clip on pickup ball (language warning) from a documentary called "Ballin at the Graveyard":

I truly discovered pickup ball when I was a college student. I lived in a large city, and there were three different courts with decent games that were about 5 minutes from my apartment. I spent a lot of time hanging out at different courts and learned to really love the game. I learned the different styles of play as well; I played one style on the Italian court, another on the Black court, and another on the Asian court. While it wasn't quite "White people play like this, Asian people play like that" type differences, I definitely think culture leads to some differences in style.

However, as I've moved recently, and re-visited some of my favorite courts, I'm starting to wonder if pickup is dead. There are fewer tournaments than there used to be, and I find myself driving to parks at 5, 6, or 7 and finding no one there. I've gone to stylish suburban parks where the court is fenced in and the backboards are glass, and to inner-city parks where not all the hoops have nets, and in both areas it seems that the number of players is declining. What has happened to pickup basketball? The NBA definitely seems to be increasing in popularity. Yet it seems like people don't want to play anymore, or that they're more interested in shooting by themselves rather than playing with others. Is it just me, or have the rest of you noticed this as well? And what does it mean, if anything, that pickup basketball is breaking down? Was pickup basketball just a fad when kids had nothing better to do and Jordan flew the friendly skies?

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