As I mentioned in Defensive Strategies, many pickup ballers live and die by the philosophy that "It's the first team to 11 points, not 11 steals." This means that scoring is king. And for that reason, knowing how to track the score is of vital importance.
Ones and twos: Pickup basketball typically employs a simplified scoring system so that it's easier for players to track the score. If you're an experienced pickup baller, you know that simple math becomes difficult, even impossible, when players are in the heat of battle and on the verge of total fatigue (which for some out-of-shape players is the first trip down the court). For that reason, conventional baskets are worth one point and three-pointers are usually worth two points.
Unfortunately, there are serious drawbacks to making the three-pointer worth double a normal basket. Players are much more likely to bomb away from downtown without regard to common sensibility. After all, hitting 25 percent of your twos is like hitting 50 percent of your ones, right? I promise you that if half-court shots were worth three or four points, people would start chucking from there, too.
This leads to many players shooting the three almost exclusively, and therefore not developing any other tangible on-court skill (like, say, passing the ball). It also creates circumstances under which a team can actually lose a game despite hitting almost twice as many field goals as the opposing team. Nothing is more frustrating than executing a precise and efficient offense and still losing to a bunch of selfish, one-trick gunners.
Time limits: Time limits are not imposed in pickup games. Instead, play ends when one team reaches a predefined total score. Common end-game scores are 7, 11, 15, and 21. The choice of score is usually dictated by how many courts are available and how many people are waiting to play. The more people waiting for next, the lower the winning score will be. Be warned: Some players will arbitrarily decide on their own end-game score, often without informing anyone. I was once involved in a heated contest in which a player yelled out "game" after he scored his team's sixth point. Everybody stood in silent astonishment as he strutted "victoriously" off the court. It's the one and only time in 15 years of playing pickup ball that I ever participated in a game that ended at six.
Win by two: Usually, the winning team must win by at least two points. This rule was probably created by losing teams who wanted an extra and undeserved chance to claim victory. Be careful how this rule is applied. While it's often assumed that a team must win by at least two points, some players will become enraged if you shout out "win by two" after they've seemingly scored the winning bucket (such as, for instance, after the game was tied 14-14). Unless you're playing in a pickup league where the rules are clearly established, you should summarize the scoring rules prior to starting any game. Otherwise, you may end up with an ugly fight on your hands.
Overtimes and dead ends: The "win by two" method inevitably leads to "overtime" games, where the final score for both teams goes several points ahead of the previously arranged end score. When two teams are evenly matched, or equally fatigued, games can go on seemingly forever. To avoid this, a "dead end" or maximum score is usually established. A sample scoring system might be first to 11, win by two, with a max score of 15.
Keeping track: Pickup games operate without the benefit of electronic scoreboards and official scorekeepers. Even if you play in a supervised pickup league, the designated coordinator is usually so poorly paid or disinterested that it's unlikely he or she will keep score for you. This means that the players are responsible for tracking the score. The best way to do this is for one or more players to yell out an updated score after each basket; otherwise, it's easy to lose track of the official score. In most cases, this will cause an argument and the players will grudgingly come to a group consensus as to what the score is. This inevitably leaves individual players and even entire teams feeling as if they've been screwed over.
Point shaving: Careless and unscrupulous players will regularly try to use the lack of an official scorekeeper to their advantage. Unless the score is called out after each hoop, these people will try to manipulate the score, taking a point or two away from the opposing team's total, or adding points to their own. I can't tell you how many times I've been on a team that I thought was comfortably in the lead, only to hear someone on the opposing team shout that the score was tied, or his team was ahead. There are also instances in which someone will claim you're jipping his team, no matter how diligent you've been at calling out the score.
Game point: There is no point as hotly contested as game point. Even the most defenseless players will put a body on you and start blocking out on game point, and even the cleanest games degenerate into hackfests. Some teams or players will even try to shame the opposing team into using the most difficult shot to win. I used to play with a group of guys that required the winning basket to be a driving layup. This, of course, provided them with the chance to maul people on their way to the hoop, thereby extending the game and giving them an "equal chance" at winning. To that end, it's difficult, sometimes completely impossible, to win on a layup. And heaven help the player brave enough to drive...you might as well stick your hand into a shark tank.
It's amazing to watch the psychological shift that occurs on game point. Good players become afraid to shoot, bad players become brave, everybody starts scrambling and diving for loose balls. Almost every call or non-call turns into an argument. Friends start screaming at each other, and sometimes won't speak for days if the final score is in dispute.
Labels: Weird Sports
What it is: A contest in which two human beanbags clad in giant diapers "compete" by picking up a babies, facing each other, and then shaking the little bastards until they start start crying.
Who wins: The first baby to start crying. In the case of a tie -- i.e., they start mouth-blasting at the same time -- the loudest brat is recognized as the "shourisha" (which is Japanese for "flying Elephant trumpet"). The losing baby is then presented with a tiny ceremonial sword and forced to commit seppuku. Personally, I prefer the "frisbee method" of committing seppuku.
How it began: Japan is a land of mystery and ancient wisdom. For this reason, most of their daily activities are based on the fathomless principles of elder generations. This is also true of their sports. According to one Japanese proverb, "When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn." It was impossible to build a sport around that adage, however, since nobody knows what the hell it means. Another Japanese axiom is that "crying babies grow fast." For this reason, many people in Japan believe that the louder an infant screams, the more gods have blessed it. So in essence, Baby-cry Sumo was created to pray for a baby's health.
When it began: The art of terrorizing crying babies was first developed in Japan over 400 years ago. However, the first official Baby-cry Sumo event took place in 1993.
When and where it takes place: Baby-cry Sumo takes place at the Sensoji temple, Tokyo, in April (this year's tournament pitted 84 squealing babies against each other). There are also contests at Ikiko shrine in Kanuma-ski, Tochigi, in September; Yamajioji temple in Shimotsu-cho, Wakayama, in October; and at Saikyoji temple, Hirado, in February. In America, Baby-cry Sumo takes place almost every day, but it is often referred to as "parenting."
Special encouragement: Since Baby-cry Sumo takes place in Japanese temples, the priests act as ad hoc referees. They even assist in the contest by shouting and waving at the babies.
What it means to basketball: In the NBA, the defining characteristic of champions is known as "killer instinct." Many great players (Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan) have it, while others (David Robinson, Karl Malone, and Dirk Nowitzki) do not. Very little is known about killer instinct or how to obtain it. However, I propose that anybody who is forced to duel another man armed with nothing but a screaming baby would either develop a killer instinct or be destroyed. So Dirk, wherever you are, I suggest a strict regimine of Baby-cry Sumo before the next season begins. After all, your legacy is at stake.
What it is: Some cloth dye and needlework on socks that are a blend of 80 percent acrylic, 20 percent stretch yarn, and 100 percent awesome*.
What it's supposed to do: Establish pride, unity, and a sense of identity (for teams); provide a medium of open and honest expression (for individuals).
What it actually does: Holds sweat, chafes your feet, looks exceptionally ugly, and wastes you and/or your team's hard-earned money.
Who it's for: Anybody who wants to play basketball in a pair of hideous, calf-length socks that look like they were imported directly from a bad 80s movie**.
What it says about you: That you're willing to sacrifice comfort and performance to wear socks that kinda-sorta look like "official" team socks, assuming that team is comprised entirely of prison inmates, homeless people, or refugees from some Third World country.
Cost and availability: You can buy them for $6.75 (plus S&H) a pair at Awesome Sports. Of course, they require that you buy at least 12 pairs per color and design. And the fact that there are no refunds on custom orders is obviously the company's subtle way of saying "Satisfaction not guaranteed."
* And by "awesome" I of course mean "godless monstrosity."
** It would, of course, be about a group of lovable, ragtag misfits from Camp Tittywacka who learn important lessons about life and themselves as they train for a tournament in which they defeat a team of vastly superior athletes from rival Camp Kickassawassi.
Labels: Word of the Day
Personal anecdote: During my sophomore year in college, I was
getting a booty call engaged in a mutually fulfilling session of physical and emotional intimacy when my girlfriend accidentally knocked a 50-pound stereo speaker onto my face. You read that correctly: She dropped a 50-pound stereo speaker on my face. I might have been able to catch it, but she was going through that adorable "neurotically insecure with her body" phase that all college girls seem to go through, and she had demanded I keep my eyes closed during The Sex. And since I was simultaneously going through that "I'd do anything for the booty" stage that most college guys go through, I happily capitulated. So I was just lying there -- probably with a big, goofy smile on my face -- when the world exploded into a dazzling array of multi-colored wonder. I opened my eyes and saw three things: Stars, a geyser of my own blood, and my shrieking girlfriend. Since she was too distraught to do anything but scream and run around the room in circles, I was forced to staunch the blood flow with a pair of my own jeans and call a friend for help. He showed up with this little first aid kit and said, "I read somewhere that 80 percent of head wounds look worse than they really are." I showed him mine, and then he said, "Yeah, let's go to the hospital."
It was a big party weekend at my school, so it took 20 minutes to convince the nurses that having a 50-pound piece of stero equipment dropped on my face had nothing whatsoever to do with binge drinking. When they finally let me into the emergency room, the doctor sagely informed me that the rogue speaker had "obliterated" my nose. It was a compound fracture, which in medical terms means "the broken ends of bone have pierced the skin." Yeah, it was ugly. I was then introduced to the transcendent joys of local anesthetic and emergency reconstructive surgery.
I left the hospital with two black eyes, 28 stitches, and a freaky mask to wear in case, as the doctor put it, I was "stupid enough to want to play sports before the nose heals." Which of course is exactly what I did. Me and some buddies went to the co-recreational gym a few nights later, "just to shoot around," and ended up in a five-on-five game against four brutish dudes and a girl. Since I was injured, my friends agreed that I should guard the girl, because all things being equal she should have been the least physical of the five. Two plays into the game, however, she whacked me hard across the face while going for the ball. Fortunately I had my mask on, right? Wrong. I was too embarrassed to wear it. The next day, I had to go back to the nose doctor and explain why my nose was now sitting sideways on my face. He responded by ramming a couple wooden sticks up my nose holes and cracking the bone back into place. Good times.
My point? If you break your nose and choose to play hoops, just wear the damn mask.
Cost and availability: Amazon.com has a limited variety of decent nose guards. The Bangerz Nose Guard is $29.95, and the Mueller Nose Guard is $39.00. There's also a generic nose guard for $39.90.
As I noted in The Stern Button post, officiating controversies and conspiracy theories have dogged David Stern for the last several years. Looking back, I couldn't help but wonder when it all began. Was it the Dwyane Wade Freethrow-A-Thon in the 2006 NBA Finals? Was it when the Kings got jobbed in Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals? Was it when the Jazz got hosed in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals? Was it when the Suns got 64 freethrows in Game 7 of the 1993 Western Conference Finals? Or was it the entire second half of Michael Jordan's career? Surprisingly enough, it was none of those. Turns out, the conspiracy theories started in Year 1 of the Stern Regime.
Stern was named Commissioner of the NBA on February 1, 1984. He took the helm of a league beset by fan disinterest, financial problems, and drug scandals, yet he righted the ship almost instantly. Of course, Stern had a little help from fate and circumstance. First, the 1984 NBA Finals featured a classic seven-game showdown between Larry Bird's Boston Celtics and Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers. Then, over the next couple seasons, a new crop of soon-to-be superstars entered the league: Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, and Patrick Ewing to name a few. Further sweetening the pot was the fact that the Celtics and Lakers met in the Finals again in '85 and '87. By the time Jordan's popularity took off in the late '80s, the league was suddenly speeding headlong toward globalization.
It sure seems like Stern was the beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time. Or was he? In retrospect, the good times clearly started with the '84 Finals, which was the ignition point of the Bird/Magic Era. I was recently rewatching Game 7 of that series -- one of the best championship matchups of all time, by the way -- and I was surprised to hear Tommy Heinsohn say, "By challenging the commissioner, I think [Bird] was trying to get the refs on his side." Dick Stockton followed that cryptic statement with the following explanation: "You heard Commissioner Stern...hearsay that someone heard David Stern say that the league wanted a seven-game series, and of course Larry Bird went to town with it." [You can listen to it here; the comments start around the 2:35 mark.]
Eh? I was intrigued. Unfortunately, a simple Google search failed me, so I started poking around The Boston Globe's online archives*. On June 11, 1984, the Globe ran an article written by Dan Shaughnessy called Bird: NBA Wanted 7. After the Celtics lost Game 6, Larry Legend was pissed, but not at the Lakers or his teammates. He was steamed at the Commish.
"Stern told a fan that the NBA needed a seven-game series, that the league needed the money. When the commissioner makes a statement like that to a fan, you know it's going to be tough. When Stern makes a statement like that, things are going to happen. You just don't make statements like that and not expect anything out of it. He's the commissioner and he shouldn't be saying anything like that. The NBA wanted a seventh game because they wanted to make more money and they got their wish. There is no reason for me to lie. He said it. He's a man and he'll live up to it. He may say he said it in jest. But I'm out there trying to make a living and win a championship."
Those were some pretty strong words from Bird**. Was there any validity to the claim? It's hard to say, since Game 6 is the only game of that series I haven't seen. But I can tell you this: The Celtics were in control for most of the game, leading by four after one quarter, by six at halftime, and by 11 with 3:59 left in the third quarter. But then things turned around in a hurry, as the Lakers outscored the Celtics 46-24 the rest of the way, enjoying a 35-17 advantage*** at the line and winning 119-108 despite Bird's 28/14/8. [This information comes from the Boston Celtics 1984 Championship Official Souvenir Book.]
On June 12, 1984, the Globe ran another Shaughnessy article called Riley: Script Is Written For Lakers' Victory. It's mostly a bunch of hippe talk**** from Pat Riley, but it does give a brief follow-up to Bird's anti-Stern comments.
According to Shaughnessy: "NBA commissioner David Stern chose not to issue any statement in response to Larry Bird's charge Sunday that Stern wanted a seventh game because the league needed the money. Stern's office said the commissioner was 'unreachable,' and no one there knew his exact whereabouts. However, NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre spoke with Stern. 'David said Bird's comment is ridiculous. Like every fan in America, he has been looking forward to a seventh game. It's a dream matchup, and everybody has wanted to see a seven-game series since Day 1.'"
It's interesting that Stern chose not to confront Bird's comments head on (and what's up with the "no one knows his exact whereabouts" stuff...what, was he on Air Force 1?). It's even more interesting that he didn't fine Bird or the Celtics; these days, those comments would be worth 100K or more in fines. It wasn't at all surprising, however, that Stern dismissed Bird's claims as "ridiculous," since that's his buzz word of choice whenever any kind of criticism is leveled against him.
Was there a conspiracy? Did Stern have a little chat with the refs before Game 6 about the league's need for a seventh game? We'll never know for sure. But it is, nonetheless, a fascinating piece of historical trivia that Stern never had even a single year as NBA Commissioner without at least one officiating controversy.
* The Boston Globe charges $2.95 per archived article. That seems a little steep to me.
** Of course, this is the same guy who called his own teammates "a bunch of sissies" after the Celtics got blown out in Game 3. Then, when asked if his team had played any better in their Game 4 comeback victory, Bird said, "Yeah, we just played like a bunch of women tonight." Yikes.
*** Did the C's get a few makeup calls in Game 7? Maybe, maybe not. But they had a 51-28 freethrow advantage in that final game.
**** Going into Game 7, Riley guaranteed the Lakers would win. "It's destiny. I believe in the Fates, and I think it's our time. I think the script is written for us to win." This is the kind of motivational crap that Riley's famous (and infamous) for. It sounds brilliant when he's right, and idiotic when he's wrong. In this case, it was the latter for Riley, since the Lakers lost the game 111-102.
I was absolutely stunned to find out that Kevin Garnett will be wearing number 5* for the Celtics. I know things have been bad in Beantown for the last several years, but I didn't realize the problems with the Boston franchise extended to the equipment managers! Giving away Bill Walton's jersey number...what were they thinking?! That's like removing the Pope's hat and dress and giving them to some begger on the street: It's a travesty of Biblical proportions.
*Apparently, KG's first choices were numbers 21, 1, and 2. However, those numbers are already retired: Bill Sharman wore 21 and numbers 1 and 2 were retired to honor Walter Brown (the team's first and greatest owner) and Red Auerbach (the team's third and greatest coach).
Some people are claiming that Garnett feels Celtic Pride. KG himself said, "The Celtics have had a proud tradition and now I hope that we can add to the legacy." Shame on you, Kevin Garnett! That may be the most heinous lie in the history of man's wickedness. If Garnett really understood the deep and complex mythos of the Celtics, he wouldn't tarnish Walton's accomplishments by sullying the big man's number. Why stop there, Kevin? Why not pull down a few of those championship banners and wipe your ass with them?
By making this decision, Garnett lost money, he lost some self-respect, and he lost legitimacy in the eyes of future hall of fame coach Doc Rivers. Okay, Rivers probably won't get into the NBA Hall of Fame, but he's in the Hall of Fame of Life. Sadly, I doubt Doc has the authority to redress this numeric injustice, and with Red Auerbach dead and buried, the Celtics have no one left who can restore order to the universe.
The raping of Bill Walton's Celtic number is one of the worst defilements, not just in basketball, or in America, but in the history of Western Civilization. What a pathetic move by a pathetic human being. Boston fans everywhere are throwing up their hands in exasperated dismay. All I can do is shake my head and ask what has happened to that once beautiful team.
Bill Walton's Top 13 Celtic Moments
Did Walton deserve to have his jersey retired, and thus keep it out of the clutches of glory-hogging sneak-thieves like Kevin Garnett? You're damned right he did! Here's a brief list of Walton's greatest Celtic moments as he led them to banner number 16.
1. October 25, 1985: Bill played 19 minutes, scored four points, committed five fouls, and turned the ball over seven times. The Celtics, not surprisingly, lost 113-109 in overtime. While his performance was appalling, his post-game quote was comedy gold: "I was a total disgrace to the game of basketball." Thanks largely to Walton's humble admission, the Celtics would go on to win their next nine games.
2. Date unknown: In his autobiography Nothing But Net, Walton recounts the bullying and verbal abuse he suffered at the hands of teammate Kevin McHale. Eventually, Big Bill decided enough was enough, and in Karate Kid-like fashion, Walton challenged McHale to a game of one-on-one in front of the entire team and coaching staff. Despite the fact that McHale was younger, healthier, and -- at that stage of his career -- better than Walton, Big Bill kicked his tormentor's butt, then limped out of practice with his head held high.
3. December 30, 1985: Walton faced his former team, the Los Angeles Clippers, and showed them what they were missing en route to leading the Celtics to a 125-103 win. The redhead contributed nine points, 13 rebounds, and a blocked shot in just 17 minutes of action.
4. January 10, 1986: The Celtics were facing the Hawks on the road, and Atlanta bolted out to a 70-47 halftime lead. Infuriated by the trashtalking of Eddie Johnson and some other Hawks players, Walton came out of halftime on a personal mission. He would go on to play a season-high 28 minutes and finished with 11 points, eight rebounds, and four blocked shots. Moreover, he was instrumental after the Celtics managed for force overtime, breaking the game's final tie with a tip-in and then blocking Eddie Johnson's shot on the Hawk's next possession. Bill's leadership was responsible for the Celtics' 115-108 overtime win...and the team's biggest comeback of the season.
5. January 22, 1986: Before wisely agreeing to help form what Bob Costas once described as "the best single-season team ever," Walton briefly considered joining the hated Lakers. But Jerry West, mindful of Walton's history of foot and ankle injuries, spurned him. Said West: "Thanks for the interest, Bill, but I've seen the X-rays of your foot." Walton correctly believed the Lakers had made a mistake, and he was determined to make them regret it. He did just that when the teams faced off at the Boston Garden. Walton racked up 11 points (on 5-of-6 shooting), eight rebounds, four assists, and seven blocked shots in only 16 minuts of playing time. Thanks to his inspired effort, the Celtics crushed the Lakers 110-95.
6. January 26, 1986: The rival 76ers were in town, and Larry Bird (9-of-25) wasn't up to the challenge. Fortunately, Bill Walton was. Walton scored 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and blocked two shots in a mere 25 minutes, leading his team to a very satisfying 105-103 victory.
7. February 5, 1986: Going into this game against the Washington Bullets, the Celtics were missing McHale, who was the team's third best player (behind Walton and Bird). It didn't matter, though, because Big Bill once again stepped up his game, notching 13 points and a season-high 17 rebounds while tying his season-high of 28 minutes. Thanks to him, the Celtics destroyed the Bullets 103-88.
8. February 16, 1986: On the road and facing the Lakers, the team that wouldn't give him a chance, Walton once again showed his legendary promise, earning 10 points, seven rebounds, and one blocked shot in 26 pulse-pounding minutes. But it was more than just the numbers; Walton shut down James Worthy in key stretches and held Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- the NBA's all-time leading scorer -- to a mere two points in the fourth quarter. Another great Walton game, another big win for the Celtics.
9. March 24, 1986: During a March 14 game against the Atlanta Hawks, Big Bill broke his nose, and then he fractured the navicular bone in his right wrist while blocking a Tree Rollins shot. But Walton had come too far to let a few broken bones stop him. He continued to play through pain, and then, when Robert Parish missed a game against the Houston Rockets, Walton got his first start of the season. During warmups, Bird walked up to Walton and said, "I know what you're thinking. Forget about it. Those [Parish's] shots are my shots. You just get on the weak side and rebound." The two men shared a laugh, because they knew who the real leader of the team was. And true to form, Walton delivered: 20 points (on 8-of-10 shooting) and 12 rebounds in a comfy-cozy 116-97 victory.
10. April 8, 1986: At this point, Walton's dominance was pretty obvious. He made his second start of the season against Milwaukee and again keyed a Celtics win by scoring a season-high 22 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in just 28 minutes.
11. May 29, 1986: Prior to Game 2 of the Finals, Walton was awarded the NBA's Sixth Man Award. Although he probably deserved the MVP, Walton was both humble and grateful. Buoyed by this joyous event, the Celtics hammered the Rockets 117-95.
12. June 3, 1986: Celtics coach K.C. Jones, trying to turn back a Rockets surge, turned to Bill Walton in crunch time, and Walton again came through for his team. With the game tied at 101 with just over two minutes to go, Walton worked a brilliant inside-out feed to Bird, who hit a three-pointer off of Walton's clever assist to give the Celtics a 104-101 lead. The Rockets scored on their next possession to pull within 104-103, and when a Dennis Johnson miss clanked off the rim, Walton swooped in from the right, evaded Hakeem Olajuwon, grabbed the rebound, and put up a backhanded layup that gave the Celtics a 106-103 win and a 3-1 series lead.
13. Date unknown: Walton, along with teammates Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, posed for the following picture. More work of art than mere photograph, the aptly titled "Big Men, Little Court" has gone on to win several international awards and inspired an entire generation of photo journalists. This is the kind of world-changing accomplishment that won't show up in any record books, but nonetheless is an integral component of the Bill Walton Legacy.