By now, most (if not all) of you are probably familiar with how London street ball legend Stuart Tanner recently "hustled" Devin Harris in an abbreviated game of one-on-one. But here's the video anyway. I may never get tired of watching it.
This now-famous smack down has been explained in detail on Basketball 24/7 by Stu's brother Greg, who insists that they weren't hustling anybody. They were there to cover a court dedication ceremony for their site. That's why Stuart was wearing a sweater and jeans. What a dirty trickster, huh?
What should Tanner have done differently? Introduce himself? "Hello, Mr. Harris. I am London street ball legend Stuart Tanner. I once beat Tony Delk in one-on-one!" The fact is, Harris hustled himself. He saw a nondescript white dude dressed like he was on his way to a bar called something like The Yacht Club or The Uppity Scotsman and immediately assumed he could beat the guy. Easily. And he probably would have thought the same thing even if Tanner had been decked out in AND 1 gear and gold chains. (Maybe even more so.)
It's hard to fault Harris, because he probably had a 99.9 percent chance of being right. Still, this kind of thing isn't limited to showdowns between NBA players and street ballers. I can't tell you how many times this has happened to me, usually when I'm just shooting around or running drills at my gym. (Yes, I run drills.) The scenario is almost always the same: A young black man challenges me to one-on-one. He plays rather casually in the first game and loses badly. He ups the intensity in the second game, but still loses. This cycle continues until he becomes angry and/or disgusted and leaves. And I would estimate that I have been accused of a hustle in 60 to 70 percent of these situations.
So...white guys aren't supposed to be able to play? That fact that I'm pretty good (for an amateur baller) constitutes a hustle?
Here's an example. A few years ago, a guy challenged me to one-on-one and I won in a route (something like 11-3). He then announced rather loudly -- so that the other people in the gym could hear -- that he only played "serious" if money was involved. It wasn't the first time somebody had wanted to play me for money. Normally, I turn these challenges down, but on that day, I accepted because his attitude really got to me. (You know how it is when somebody's looking at you like you're some kind of lower life form.) "Fine," I said. "Ten bucks." He tried to get me up the bet, but I refused. Finally, he smiled reeeeeally wide and said, " You're on."
I beat him 11-5, and two of his points came off one of those garbage banked threes from the top of the key (if you've played a lot of pickup ball, you know what I'm talking about). He was pissed. He stomped off the court to go to the drinking fountain, then stomped back onto the court and paced around for a few minutes with his hands on his hips. Finally, he turned to me and said, "Let's go again. Double or nothing." I not only agreed, I said that, for me to win, I would have to hold him scoreless.
"You're gonna beat me 11-0? Seriously?" He laughed and called me a sucker. But I beat him 11-zip in what turned out to be an incredibly physical game. Bruises were given and received. He did not request a rematch, so I followed him to the locker room to collect my $20. And, to his credit, he paid up. Grudgingly, but he did it. However, as I was walking away, he said (to no one in particular), "Damn! I just got hustled by a white dude!"
You'd think I was the one who challenged him.
Mind you, I'm not trying to make this a black versus white thing. I've received similar challenges from white guys, including this one dude I like to call "Fat Shaq." One night we played over and over because he insisted he was not leaving until he won a game. He even kept modifying the rules to his advantage -- one game had to be played exclusively in the paint -- and couldn't win. And after all that he called me a "hustler."
But that's life in pickup ball. I've talked about it before. People make immediate assumptions about how good or bad someone is based on physical appearance. There's definitely a Hierarchy of Presumed Ability, with black men at the top, white men in the middle, and various other ethnicities (Asian, Indian, etc.) at the bottom. Although, admittedly, there are adjustments based on size. (It is widely assumed that tall guys and muscular guys will be really good. But, in my experience, the really muscular guys are almost never any good...although they seem to believe they're better than everybody because they look like the Hulk.)
Anyway, I don’t want to go on and on about these things, but this is what I think we should take from Tanner versus Harris: Tall, short, black, white, young, old, basketball is all about playing the game. Never make assumptions.