first night superstar

First Night Superstar (furst nit soo'-puhr-stahr') noun. A pickup baller who plays extremely well during his first night at a pickup league, but whose performance drops off significantly on subsequent nights.

Usage example: Man, remember how good that guy was when he first showed up? Now he sucks. I guess he was a First Night Superstar.

Word history: I coined this term a few years ago at my weekly pickup league. I couldn't help but notice that many times a new guy would totally clean up on his first night and then quickly devolve into an average (or below average) player. I think this happens for a few reasons.

First off, players tend to try harder and focus more when they're unfamiliar with the court, their teammates and their defenders. Many new players desperately want to make a good impression, so they'll hustle, take good shots, avoid bad passes, crash the boards, and so on. However, comfort tends to lead to complacency (at best) and laziness (at worst). So after these guys become accustomed to their surroundings, they often stop hustling and rebounding and start forcing up junk shots and making careless passes.

Secondly, defenders sometimes take a "wait and see" approach with a new player. After all, you don't necessarily want to scare the dude off on his first night. Furthermore, it's impossible to tell whether someone is going to snap and start a fight the first time they take a hard foul or get caught by a blindside pick. Then too, it can be hard to stop a guy before you figure out how good he is and where he likes to shoot from.

But eventually the defense will catch up with the newbie. After people start to learn his game, they figure out how to slow him up or shut him down. This can happen pretty quickly since most pickup ballers have only one or two go-to moves and/or pet shots. I mean, if someone always jukes right, dribbles left twice and then pulls up for a 15-footer...well, the effectiveness diminishes pretty quickly.

If the new player is genuinely skilled, the league's top defender (or defenders) will be dispatched to break their spirit. And other people will step up to provide quick help, because nobody wants a new guy to show up the regulars. My buddy Mister P refers to this stop-the-noob phenomenon as "feeding them their rookie cookies." One Wednesday night, a new guy came out and torched everybody with long-range three-pointers. (By "long-range" I mean triples taken four or five feet beyond the arc.) At one point, I was on my way to the drinking fountain when I overheard him asking if there was any "real competition" in the league.

Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to play against him again that night. But the next Wednesday, I dropped the hammer on him. And so did everybody else. Defenders were up in his face, and everybody jumped out on him on picks. You could tell he hated it, and he became increasingly frustrated as the night went on. I don't think he hit a three all night. And he never came back.

It's worth noting that the increased defensive intensity usually slackens over time, usually after the new guy's focus and intensity returns to "normal" levels. Then he and the other players settle into a comfort zone that rarely changes. Until the next new guy shows up.

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Anonymous Ray1981 said...
I'm so jealous of the concept of a pickup league. I live in Belgium of all places and i play less than 5 pickup games a year even though i'm looking for some all summer long.
Only way to play ball indoor here is in strict competition with 2 or 3 mandatory practices a week in addition to the actual games.
I enjoy games without a ref or coach much more but there's just none to be had... :-(

Blogger Japes said...
God I hate people who talk like that. When I join a new group of ballers and do well, I use that opportunity to get to know them better and make new friends. Why the hell would you talk trash if you're trying to join a regular group?

I make it a point to shut up new guys who say "Is there any real competition here?". The worst is when you shut a guy down and he refuses to admit it was you. "I can't believe I'm not hitting any of my shots, just off today I guess". Or maybe it's because I haven't given you enough room or time to shoot comfortably.

Like you bawful, I also take pride in my defense.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
OK... I have been a reader of your Blog for the past 2-3 weeks. I am an avid NBA fan. One question... what is the requirement for a player/coach to make the collage. Would like to hear a breakdown on their bawfulness which allowed them to make the cut

Anonymous D_Fence said...
Bawful - Where do you play rec ball? I need to see your skills in action. Mentally you're there, and from that i gather that your a top defender. I consider myself one as well (at least for rec ball standards). Let me know where you guys hoop and i'll bring my Skokie squad for a challenge match. You can coin a new term for us, "The New Group We Can't Beat" HA!

Blogger Cortez said...
"Why the hell would you talk trash if you're trying to join a regular group?"

Why would you initiate talking trash, outside of a joking context, at all?

"Is there any real competition here?"

For you? How could there be? Could you do yourself a favor and go find some?

Blogger DC said...
Does the rhetorical question of "Is there any real competition here?" count as a stat curse on par with Devin Harris' ill-fated prediction and the big-balls dance?

Blogger GonzoPal said...
@Ray1981: Man, a pickup league would be so incredibly nice to have. I´m from Germany and besides playing in lower leagues with regular training i couldn´t get more than 10 random pickup games a year. Not to speak of the search for public courts... I guess were really a pickup-3rd-world-country here...

i 2nd the emotion of not having any indoor pick-up leagues. We have two places to go for outdoor pick-up games in the summer, but no where to go just to play some random ball... sux ballzzzz

Blogger AnacondaHL said...
Slightly random, and as much as I'd hate to link an article that was on Bill Simmons's Twitter, I had read this article interviewing Bernie Madoff's mistress just before reading Bawful's article, and it made me think of something completely different. Let's just say she describes in enough detail how $65 billion wasn't the only thing he was lacking in size.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
AnacondaHL - You just made my day.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
D_Fence -- I would be happy to travel to Skokie to engage in a little pickup. That way, you'll have homecourt advantage.

Blogger The Dude Abides said...
This bullet point from Tuesday's True Hoop blog at ESPN needs to be highlighted for Bawful's Aussie, Kiwi, and British readers:

Not that it hasn't been shouted from the roof tops over the past couple of years, but Leon Powe remains the most rootable player in the Association.

After reading that bullet point, that was the hardest I've laughed this week.

Anonymous Dubirati said...
Or maybe "First Night Superstar" was just having a random 'breakout' game. I had my "FNS" experience a couple of years ago and everyone was quite impressed of my "skill" not knowing that I was playing out of my mind (and wouldn't perform anywhere near that well ever again).

It was quite surreal. I had a few lucky offensive boards (I play on the perimeter mostly) that led to some nice assists and an easy layup. There was a stretch wherein I picked the ball off on 3 straight possessions and successfully led the break. I did miss a couple of threes but that was because my team kept feeding me the ball and telling me to fire away. I did drain an off-balanced one with a guy bumping me and a hand in my face.

I had some nice shooting nights before and after that one but never had it that good. Three straight steals was the biggest fluke. And everyone I played with back then now knows.

Anonymous Goat Boy said...
HA loosers from the West, come to my poor old eastern european Lithuania and join me every day playing ball. The difference from America is that you have to play outdoors, in a court with holes in it and shoot to a basket without net. Anyway, go to the local court and you'll find all your mates and there are big games every day. Or go to the mainstream courts in a city centre, where you can play with various street ballers (who film you being humiliated by them and put you in Youtube), people from jail, hip-hop superstars, drunk people and people who celebrate their bachelor party.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
so basically the first night superstar is the amateur equivalent to the contract year phenomenon

Anonymous Anonymous said...
@goatboy - there are hiphop SUPERSTARS in Lithuania? And why are people from Jail outside playing pick up ball? Is that why Ilgauskas and Kleiza are such tough players?!?

Blogger Will said...
there's no better way to celebrate a bachelor party than to play ball against drunks and prisoners.

Blogger senormedia said...
Damn, I guess that I'm lucky in that we have a standing weekly gym night with a regular cast of 10 or so.
I've had that in every city in which I've lived - I didn't realize that it was that rare.

Anonymous Goat Boy said...
anonymous - sorry for my exaggeration, theres no superstars here, since you can find candidates who would run for president shopping in your local mall. One is in fact a bit choosy (he's been minister of finance lately) - he always spends a lot of time touching, grabbing and testing fruits and vegetables, until he finds the best ones.
Anyway, rappers - they are not superstars, but they are pretty good.
And people from jail i mean they got out of jail. But boy they are worth seeing. Usually they are tattooed colourfully, have no teeth and act very nicely (probably because they are afraid to go back). Oh, and they always play topless (without t-shirt).
And about Ilgauskas and Kleiza- I bet you said it sarcastically, and i do agree they are not tough, but theres not a lot of white people in the NBA who are though :D
anyway, sorry for a long comment, you didnt have to read it...

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