Why pickup basketball matters

Just 3.3% of boys high school basketball players eventually play at the Division Ilevel. Just 1.2% of these Division I players go on to play
professionally. So what about the majority of people who do not play in
college or professionally? I can’t speak for everybody, but a viable solution for
most is to play pickup basketball. Yes, pickup basketball—- competitive, yet
meaningless, unnecessarily heated, yet just as fun as an organized game.

Why pickup basketball?
Obviously there are many avenues of entertainment for us non-athletes, so what
makes basketball on a playground so special? Unlike AAU, high school ball, or
even basketball at the college level, pickup basketball is free of influence
from adults who solely wish to reap the benefits of star players (whether that
be taking credit for making that player who he is, using the player for his
financial standing should he go pro, or the like). Pickup basketball is far
from the controlled world that leagues and organized sports create. It is
often chaotic, free of rules, and not surprisingly, very much  reflective of
the ABA that was beloved before its counterparts of the NBA bought it out. Pickup
basketball is just as much about breaking your defender’s ankles or dropping a
dime as it is about winning a game. It emphasizes the flashy play over the
simple one, the fade-away jumper over the basic layup.

Pardon me if I sound like a 75-year-old reliving his high school glory days, but in pickup basketball, your
identity is fluid. Throw on your favorite player’s jersey or shoes and all of a
sudden, you’re him—- you better live up to the name or else you will not get
the ball. Hit a step back jumper and you’ll hear “ooohhs” and “aahhss,” and if
you’re in the Los Angeles area, most likely a “KOOOBEEE!” You get a nickname
for how you play and what you do on the court, whether you like it or not. If
you really have the courage to flop in a pickup game, you’re Ginobili. You throw
a great pass—- J-WILL! Rebounding machine…? Up for grabs here—many
contemporary fans might prefer DeAndre Jordan or Shaq here, I’d go with Bill
Russell.

Pickup basketball is a rebellion. It’s for all the people in protest
of the system, all those who still seek the fun in basketball and not the X’s
and O’s. It consists of everything that makes basketball the most
well-orchestrated team sport in America; it is universal, defying the barriers
of language or ethnic differences. Everyone can understand basketball and its
nuances regardless of where they hail from so long as they put enough effort
into understanding the game. The banter and trash talk, the point of a finger
after a great pass, the showboating after a great move, or even just a high
five—- any person can understand these relatively quickly.

Pickup basketball has been making
and continues to make an undeniable cultural impact. Basketball fanatics have
long wished to see games at storied Rucker Park, the Los Angeles Drew League,
and other famed venues. In Pro-Am competitions (professional-amateur), the art
form that is basketball is very evident. To the chagrin of basketball purists,
but to the delight of progressive thinkers, plays like these: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYxjFhCaj2s
garner significantly more attention than these: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58dPzFDr0jg.
For better or for worse, basketball is changing, all thanks to the pickup
culture. Scouts notice the highlight reel dunk over the perfect screen or the
fundamentally sound bounce pass. Pickup basketball is very much reminiscent of
the Beatles and the imprint that they left in the United States. The game that
we know and love is evolving and while such a style might be better suited for
the playgrounds than basketball at higher levels, there’s no questioning that
pickup basketball and the influence that it brings along with it are here to
stay.

—Conner Hoyt

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