My basketball coach at school gives me my workout when I leave for home for the summer to make sure I stay in shape and continue to work on my game for next season. In addition to lifting weights, running, and shooting, I try to play as much pickup basketball as I can. Now, I know full well going into these games that they are going to be nowhere near the collegiate level of players I go against every game at school, but it is nice to get out there, get a run in and play a little bit. However, with the talent dropoff and the clowns who try to lace ‘em up and come play, sometimes the games can become quite frustrating. After playing basketball all my life in hundreds of thousands of pickup games, I have compiled a list of the different types of players you might run into at these games.
The Dirty Old Guy – Everyone knows this guy. He probably played with Moses and cannot move, run -- or play, for that matter -- but he still refuses to take up golf, as it’s “a game for old guys.” He rocks knee braces from the '80s that give him the belief his long-gone knee ligaments are still fully functioning, and might be seen wearing his beat-up New Balances with the Dr. Scholl's insole for added comfort. He does all the little irritating things that would get calls in an organized game, but in pickup hoops, they never count as fouls. Block him out and he will vault himself over your shoulder for the board; cross him over and he will elbow you in the kidney; set a pick on him and he will make sure you don’t have children. If you call him out on it, he simply replies, “What? Play through, young blood.” He won’t be able to truly hurt you, however, as age limits him. He is a solid player, plays well below the rim, is often left wide open because teams believe there is no point in guarding him, and serves mostly as a huge distraction and annoyance on the court. This old guy seems to play pretty well, though…
The Football Player – The Football Player might have played in high school as the guy who went in to set picks and beat people up, and in the pickup game he is no different. More likely than not, he just got done lifting weights and is already juiced with adrenaline -- if not the steroids he took hours before. He dives for loose balls, crashes the boards and plays hard on defense just so he can create contact and punish all those around him. Excellent pickup for your team, but his buff-man jump shot might raise more than a few question marks.
The Sweater – The Sweater looks like he just swam 20 laps in the gym pool with his clothes on. The worst part yet is that he always seems to find his way onto the skins team. His hairy chest makes him look like wet, matted carpet and is Teflon-like, as everything seems to slide right off him. Every time he is involved in a play, you have to check the ball up and wipe his sweat off it. You always seem to accidentally swipe your hand under the man boob while boxing him out, or catch a mouthful of his thicket of chest hair while coming around a pick.
The Bill Russell – This guy does not get his name due to ability but rather due to his insistence on being a player-coach. He thinks he knows everything and is always telling his teammates to cut to the open spot, box out, or play like you mean it. He does come in handy as he ALWAYS calls out the picks and yells “SHOT!” every time the ball goes up. He coaches but nobody really listens, which frustrates him even more. He yells out for better defensive rotations and claims to be Coach K without the whistle. He does his best to make sure his team knows a good shot from a bad one, and tries to huddle the team during dead balls. He will work hard on defense and looks to pass first on offense, but in all reality, his desire to coach more than play makes him a liability.
The MVP – The MVP is clearly better than everyone else on the floor. He played college ball and might have seen some time overseas before he either retired or is just back for the off season. He team rarely loses and he makes fools out of the opposition. He will cross you up and hit a jumper in your mouth, Iverson style, one possession and the next he will beat your jump shot out of the gym. He only loses once he gets tired and lets the other players on his team try and carry the load. Playing with him is fun because you get to be on the court the whole time, but more likely than not, you feel about as involved in the game as the guy who is cleaning the weights.
The Wannabe – Everyone hates the Wannabe. He thinks he is the best player in the gym when he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. He wears all the name-brand gear, from his new Jordan shoes to his high school practice jersey to his Air Jordan headband. He is an extremely confident player because, after missing 10 shots in a row, he seems to KNOW that that 11th one is going down. He can shoot your team in or out of a game, and you know that he is going to give 100 percent. The worst thing that can happen is he gets a few buckets early in the game (a la Russell Westbrook) because then he won’t stop shooting until his arm falls off. He shoots it every time he touches the ball, which angers his teammates and makes them not want to play. They begin giving up easy layups, stop playing defense and don’t try to rebound. This only fuels the Wannabe’s desire to take over all by himself.
The Complainer – He will argue every call, every time, no matter what. He will fight to get the call in his favor like it is Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and might challenge you to a fight if you think otherwise. Every little bump on him is a foul, and if you try to argue one of his many hacks? Well, my friend, you have entered the gantlet. He will argue for hours on end to the point where you just stop because it isn’t even worth it anymore. He is right, you are wrong, the sky is red, on to the next play.
The Warrior – The Warrior gets his name from the fact that he will never, ever, call a foul, no matter what. Blood on the ground, dislocated finger, missing tooth, missing leg, whatever -- it’s “Naw, that’s not a foul.” He is making a statement against the guys who call a foul on every play, refusing to stoop to their level. His teammates try and call fouls for him but he refuses. “Rub some dirt on it,” he says as he picks himself up off the floor for the hundredth time. While he suffers the physical pain of another brutality at the rim he feels no shame, it is, in fact, you who feels like a wuss for calling a foul for yourself.
The Big Guy Who Thinks He's a Guard – Ugh -- this guy! When it's time to divide teams and you get the 6-foot-8-inch behemoth on your team, you couldn’t be happier. Wrong. This guy wants to play point guard and treats the paint like it is hot lava. He casts away three-pointer after three-pointer a la Manute Bol and gets posted up by the guy who is 5’10" and gets abused. No player can be more frustrating to play with, as being on the team that looks like the toughest to beat just became an easy out.
Middle-Age Fat Guy – Middle-Age Fat Guy has one special skill that dumbfounds everyone: He comes to the gym during his lunch break at Farmers Insurance and is immediately left open at the beginning of the game. However, this strategy proves to be very dangerous and he nails his first three-point shot. “He’s lucky,” you think as you run down the court, but then he busts another shot, then another, then another. Soon, you are left thinking, “WHO IS F****** GUARDING HIM!?!?!” Middle-Age Fat Guy simply smiles as he blasts another trey ball in your mouth and runs down the court.
The Trash Talker – The Trash Talker’s biggest enemy is himself. He thinks he is all that and a bag of chips, but he actually amounts to something closer to a few forgotten Cheetos under the couch. “You can’t stop me!” echoes throughout the gym as another ill-advised deep three careens off the rim. He will oftentimes challenge other ballers, somehow convincing himself that he can actually play. He is a very emotional player, yelling and celebrating whenever his team makes a good play. He clearly has off-the-court issues and pickup ball is his outlet.
The Butt Slapper – All in the name of a good play, The Butt Slapper takes full advantage of the situation to give you a firm, yet strangely soft, smack on your buttocks after a good play. You wonder if there are some ulterior motives behind the smack from a strange old man at the gym, but you choose to bite your tongue and suppose it is just part of the game.
The Buddies – These guys come to the gym together and demand to be on the same team. They run pick and rolls like Stockton and Malone with callous disregard for everyone else on their team. They only pass to one another, and act as if the other people on their team were simply getting in the way. Your best chance of getting the ball is scoring on an offensive rebound, and other than that you might be out of luck. You are certainly in for a long afternoon being on their team.
The Dunker (Almost) – The Dunker (Almost) has thoroughly convinced himself that he is Vince Carter with the Raptors, yet cannot quite seem to get the ball over the rim. He takes every opportunity to jump up and grab the rim just to show that he can do it. When he tries with the ball between games, he gets hung by the rim and comes up with some lame excuse like he “took off the wrong foot.”
The Girl – If a girl shows up to play, you know that she can ball. She probably played college ball or is close to someone in the professional ranks so she definitely knows what she is doing. You have to guard her and give everything you’ve got on defense at the risk of having everyone clown on you for getting scored on by a girl. It should prove as no embarrassment, though, as she moves on to give the next competitor cold buckets. There is no middle ground when guarding her; either you play too soft and get burned or you play her physical and everyone calls you Chris Brown.
The Scrub – The Scrub cannot play -- period. He might show up in sweat pants and a collared shirt, having no idea what the hell he is doing. Everyone quietly hopes he doesn’t ask for next game, but when he does, a resounding “F*@%” is heard throughout the gym. He steps on your toes, bumps into you on offense, gets massacred on defense and always seems to hit a game winner because no one pays any attention to him. Dammit.