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Pickup Basketball Games at the Plex Are a Lesson in Strategy for the Competitors

Heights Editor

Published: Sunday, September 23, 2012

Updated: Sunday, January 13, 2013 09:01

What follows is only a slight exaggeration of my experiences trying to get some good runs on the basketball courts at the Plex since moving to Lower.

"Who’s got next?"

Simple enough question, right? Wrong.

If you’re at the Plex between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., "Who’s got next?" just might be the toughest question you’ve ever asked, because no one ever knows.

"Uh, my boys should be showing up right when they get back from their EDM Superset. We’ve got next," responds the dude in the throwback Charlotte Hornets jersey and ’95 Air Jordans.

"Huh?"

"They all sync their iPod Classics to the same EDM playlists and get brolic with bicep curls," shrugs the faux Larry Johnson.

"Nothing else, just bicep curls?"

"All you need on Saturday nights at the Mods, yo," Johnson says as he whips out his phone to tweet his revelation with a #DeepPlexThoughts.

Okay, moving on. Standing on the other baseline is a group of four, and the one dribbling a ball says I can hop into the next game with them (It’d be so much easier if they just put up whiteboards behind the rims so people could sign up for the next game and then have some peace of mind). He actually makes sure to clarify that I can join his team. Oh boy, I know where this is going.

We’ll refer to this kid as Sprewell, because that’s what I’m calling him in my head during the whole game. I establish with the winning team that we’re going to 15 by ones and twos, win by two, and that’s greeted by nods. Ball in.

Sprewell pulls up for an NBA-range three on our team’s first possession. Well, let me clarify. He throws the ball behind his back twice, loses it off his ankle, chases it down, and then launches a one-footed leaner in the general direction of the rim. Air ball. The other squad grabs the rebound and throws it down the court to a few guys snow-birding that are wide open because Sprewell is still holding his shooting hand up, looking in legitimate awe at the rim for somehow defying him and not electromagnetically pulling the ball into its nylon cylinder.

I take a peek at the rest of his crew after I’m done unsuccessfully chasing the break on defense, and they’re giving him reassurance that the next one is going to fall. Uh huh, right.

Let me clarify here that I’m not a great basketball player by any means. I played two years of varsity in high school, but mainly rode the bench acting as a cheerleader/unqualified assistant coach who would come in when the freshman point guard got overwhelmed so I could show him how the motion offense was supposed to work before returning to my seat, still warm and toasty. My greatest moment in four years of high school basketball was preventing a 7-foot-1 Texas Tech recruit from dunking on my face during a fast break by tackling him in a way that really should’ve warranted a flagrant foul, a 15-yard penalty, the loss of two timeouts, and a free-kick.

I am, however, capable of putting together a decent pick-up game if some of the other four guys on the court can understand that when I put my hand up and push my chest into their defender, I’m not getting to know the guy better so I can buy him dinner later and maybe call him once the three-day rule has passed, but instead I’m executing this cool new basketball innovation called a screen. Ask Steve Donahue about it, it’s pretty dope. Or maybe when I point at the rim someone can backdoor-cut the guy that’s overplaying him instead of chilling on the arc waiting to drain that jumper he’s been working on so often in NBA 2K10.

Alright, back to Sprewell. A few plays later, he bites on an in-and-out move and his man blows past him for an easy lay-up. Unphased, Spre dribbles the ball up the court and attempts a runner in traffic that clanks off the rim. It may have been the rim one court over he was so far off, but I can’t confirm that. I was too busy running back on defense. The guy handling the ball for the other team almost assuredly trained with Usain Bolt in high school, because his scissor legs move right past me on his way to an easy score. And then Sprewell gets pissed.

"Hey man, if you’re not going to play any D, we’ll just sub you out."

Smile and nod, I tell myself. We end up losing the game by five, and Sprewell shakes his head, refusing to shake hands with anyone, and muttering about how his shot has never been so off. It must have been all those extra reps he did today during his three upper body workouts messing with his rhythm.

I tell the guys on the other team that I’d be down to get a game in with them any time. They played D, communicated, ran some screens, and shared the ball. But they had their five, and they weren’t going to risk messing that up. Survival of the fittest and everything, you know.

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