Out of Bounds: Pickup Basketball Culture

Pickup basketball is unlike any other experience in sports. Basketball is the one sport where you only need two things: a ball and a hoop. It’s also the only major sport where only one other person is needed to make it a game. The unwritten rules are plentiful and sometimes things get a little more heated than necessary.

“I usually try and get out here maybe three or four times a week,” sophomore exercise and wellness major Demitri Hayes says. Men young and old converge on the court at downtown YMCA, currently the recreation center for the ASU downtown campus, many nights a week to live out the dreams they never quite reached of making that game winning shot or dawning that college or NBA jersey. They attempt to renew their youth and relive their high school glory days. “I’m out here five or six times a week,” senior communications major Charlie Findman says. “I played AAU, but not for my high school.”

Men of all ages gather at the Downtown YMCA everyday to play pickup basketball. Photo by Nick Krueger Men of all ages gather at the Downtown YMCA everyday to play pickup basketball. Photo by Nick Krueger

I walk into the gym around three in the afternoon last Monday and everyone seems to be shooting. One of the first things that strikes me is that teams aren’t picked by captains. In order to keep it as fair as possible, the players gather around and take free throws. One person makes his shot from the charity stripe and goes to one side of the gym, another man makes his and retreats to the opposite side of the floor. This continues until each player makes his shot, alternating which side of the gym they go toward and therefore which team they’re assigned to.

After this occurs, players simply substitute in or out for the rest of the night.

The list of unwritten rules is long, “Call your own fouls, if you don’t call it we’re gonna keep playing, you gotta win by two too,” Hayes says. “Don’t call weak fouls,” Findman adds. “Don’t go overboard with the elbows or anything like that, everyone’s out here to have fun no one’s really looking to get hurt, if someone is jumping or something like that you don’t take them down.”

Since rules are unwritten, another problem happens to be fights. In pick-up basketball things can get heated quickly. It seems trivial, it doesn’t count for anything and after all it is just to play for fun, but many guys take it seriously.

“If you come up in the mornings around 11-1 it’s a lot of older guys. The more ASU specific it is like around now (4:30 p.m.) when it’s a lot of college kids it gets really competitive,” Findman says.

In my previous playing experience I just don’t get involved in the competitive nature. It’s just a simple game and in my opinion anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves.

“I’ve seen some altercations you know over the score or fouls, but never really a fight though,” Hayes says. “A lot of trash talk though, I just play man, I like to talk with my game.”

It’s clear that basketball is a universal sport and without a doubt, pick-up gets played everywhere. Think about it, all of these ASU students came from all over the country. Demitri Hayes is from Tucson while Charlie Findman is from New Jersey, yet they both knew the same unwritten rules and how to play pickup.

So grab your shoes, athletic shorts, and your favorite player’s jersey, maybe even Michael Jordan’s lauded number 23 and if you hit that three-pointer go ahead and do “the shrug” because out here, it’s all in good fun.


If you have any suggestions as to what you would like to see me write about or cover this semester, have a comment about a recent post, or simply want to talk sports, contact me at nkruege1@asu.edu or via Twitter @npkrueger

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