Prior to the current season, NBA commissioner David Stern instituted the so-called "Rasheed Wallace Rule," a zero-tolerance policy that (kinda sorta) prohibits post-whistle bitching and moaning. Unfortunately, pickup leagues don't have commissioners or referees, and therefore we can't get anti-complaint legislation passed, let alone enforced. But man oh man, I wish we could.

Here's the thing: Pickup basketball works on the honor system. You're expected to call your own fouls in a just and reasonable manner, and the other players are then obliged to respect the call. But if that ever actually happens in your league, please, by all means, let me know...because I'll personally call the Guiness Book of World Records people for you.

See, most pickup players have been balling for 10, 15, even 20 or more years. During that time, they have evolved into sophisticated basketball machines; a vast supply of experience combined with their athletic prowess and laser-like reflexes make them incapable of committing a foul. Or so they think.

So when you do call a foul against someone, that person naturally gets bent the hell out of shape. It's like you just accused your mom of never hugging you as a child, or told your girlfriend she looks fat in, well, everything she owns. Eyes bulge. Arms flail. Curses are shouted toward the unforgiving heavens. What follows is what I like to call The Three Four Stages of Foul Dispute.

Stage 1 - Denial: As soon as the foul has been called -- and sometimes before the words can even leave your mouth -- the opposing player immediately contradicts you. They don't even take the time to analyze what you said, because they know in their heart that they never, ever, under any number of crazy circumstances, could have committed a foul. In the immortal words of Dr. Cox: "Never; not in a million years; absolutely not; no way, Jose; no chance, Lance; nyet; negatory; mm-mm; nuh-uh; and of course my own personal favorite of all time, man falling off of a cliff -- NOOOOOOOoooooooo!"

Example 1a: Last night, Partial Hand Guy set a pick on me. I tried to run around the pick, but as I was doing so he stuck out his exceptionally large ass. Once his ass caught me, he began scooting backward with as much force as he could, in effect bulldozing me backwards with his butt cheeks. The man I was defending, now wide open, shot and hit a three-pointer. On my way back upcourt, I said, "You can't set moving picks. Watch it." Mind you, I didn't call a foul. I was just giving a slightly less-than-friendly reminder that moving picks are, in fact, illegal. Instead of admitting his transgression and (reluctantly) agreeing not to set any more moving picks, or even just quietly accepting what I had to say, he naturally freaked out. "What?! No I didn't! Come on now, that was a clean pick!"

Example 2a: Later, while I was bringing the ball upcourt, Spaz Guy -- who loves to apply full-court pressure -- charged at me with wildly swinging arms. His hand caught me hard across the wrist and the ball popped out of my hands. Never, at any point, did he get so much as a fingernail on the ball. "Got it," I said. His reply? "Wha...what?! Are you kidding me?! Is everything a foul?!"

Stage 2 - Obfuscation: For some reason, many people feel that getting called out or accused of committing a foul is the worst possible embarrassment, worse even than those guys who get caught on Dateline's To Catch A Predator series. So after first making a strong-worded denial, the next step is to embarrass their opponent right back. This means making a sort of reverse accusation, which more often than not has nothing whatsoever to do with the call that was made. The person who committed the foul tries to take a moral stand, accusing the person who called the foul of some previous wrongdoing, either real or imagined, that was worse, wasn't called (out of "mercy"), or both.

Example 1b: Once Partial Hand Guy realized that I wasn't going to accept his denial of the illegal pick, he made a seamless transition from defense to offense. "Oh yeah? Well you travel every single time you touch the ball...I could call that every time!"

Example 2b: As he was stomping his way toward the other end of the court, Spaz Guy felt the need to point out that "You double-dribbled just a couple minutes ago, and I didn't call that! Jesus!"

Stage 3 - Justification: By denying the foul and then pointing a finger at you, the defender has given himself the time necessary to catch his breath and think up a really good explanation of why, exactly, the foul was not really a foul. The hope, of course, is that everyone is so fatigued and confused, nobody will be able to remember exactly what happened, assuming they even saw it in the first place. And at that point, it's your word against his...a veritable no-win situation.

Example 1c: After a heated debate on whether or not I actually manage to travel on every possession, Partial Hand Guy finally got around to pointing out that he wasn't moving on the pick. He was rolling. "I can roll to the basket after I set a pick. That's perfectly legal." Forget the fact that he had his head down, his hands at his sides, and he wasn't even moving toward the basket. It was really a pick-and-roll, and not a pick-and-push-me-the-hell-out-of-the-way. Suuuuuure.

Example 2c: Once Spaz Guy had finished recounting the exact nature of my supposed double-dribble, complete with pantomime and a running commentary, he returned to what presumably was the original point. "And anyway, I didn't hit your arm. I got all ball, and after I stole it your arm came up and hit me in the face." It was, at best, a rewriting of history and, at worst, a ridiculous lie. But it sounded plausible enough to him. He wasn't getting the ball back -- no one ever does, just like in the NBA -- but he now felt absolved of any wrongdoing. And in the end, that's really what it's all about.

Edit: Many thanks to reader JamieK for pointing out the forgotten fourth stage of dispute...

Stage 4 - Threats of Retribution: This is where the person who committed the foul promises to start making every conceivable call against you and your team. "Oh, I see how it is. I'm gonna start calling everything too." Sometimes this is merely a bluff, a classic case of someone blowing off steam. But, more often than not, there will be at least one or two ticky-tack makeup calls immediately thereafter. And usually they're of the exceedingly petty variety. Hand checking? Yup. Three second violation? Of course. Palming? You know it. Fortunately, these are the kinds of calls that can turn a person's own team against him, and once his teammates start groaning and snarking at him, things usually return to normal.

Until the next foul.

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Blogger JamieK said...
very nice. one final stage: threatening of retribution. "Oh, I see how it is. I'm gonna start calling everything too."

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Jeeeeezus - you play with exact clones of everyone I play with.

You forgot:

Stage 5: The Game Point Microscope
Nitpicky calls are made when it's game point. i.e.
- bucket don't count because I fouled you BEFORE you shot
- moving picks, dragging pivot foot, stepping out of bounds, ball bounced on the line, palming, reaches, even over the backs

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Love the Scrubs reference.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Best one I can add is the stage zero bait tactic
example - casual remark while getting back on offense: watch the 3 seconds Mr. "I'm camping in front of the RIM", maybe with some sauce - a la "you know you should at least step out of the lane once every 20 seconds or so chief, you know I nearly tripped over your tent in there". Made as a non-disruptive remark to which you get the response out loud - "well why don't you F'in call it then smart #ss", thus diverting all attention from said offense board machine to your clearly petty #ss self for even considering such a concept. After-all the lane is only put on courts around the country in order to distinguish the lay-up or bunny shot from the difficult one and to measure off where to shoot for teams right?

Blogger TheHype said...
I hate Hugh Jackman

Anonymous Anonymous said...
How about the other form of retribution: "You call that a foul?! Oh man, I'll show you A REAL foul!" And then he chops your freakin arm off on the next posession. A threatening gaze/scuffle/serious fight may follow.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Well how about the guy who doesn't really call the foul, he just sort of huffs and puffs and mutters something under his breath that could slightly resemble, "yo, i got that shit" but by the time he's actually assertive about it, we're already laying it up at the other end. I hate that. If it's a foul. Call it out, "Ball" "Foul" "And 1" whatever. Say it.

Oh and I hate when you get the really militant guys that when they're fouled, they make it into something personal or they piss and moan about it. It's like, "Hey man, my bust, i was going for the ball."

Actually a couple of days ago I was in a dispute on the court about a travelling call. The kid took a jump stop and added a step, a twist. It looked like he was crip-walking to the basket. I called him on it and he went to great lengths to explain to me how it was only 2 steps which was ridiculous considering he would cover a profane amount of ground. But he wouldn't hear of the travelling call.

You know you should do a piece on the guys that like to coach during pickup games, too. Those guys suck.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
A recent survey found that 59% of blacks wanted Spaz guy to get called for the foul, only 38% of whites thought it was a foul.
Also, studies show that blacks are 14% more likely to get called for offences by opposing players in pick-up games, regardless of the race of those opposing players

Anonymous Anonymous said...
What about the "Alright fuck it, give it to him..." Like he's being the bigger man. Classic.

Blogger Dooj said...
What about the opposite side of this spectrum?

I'll allow physicality in pickup games, it's part of the game. I'll fully admit every foul that I commit, however, what irks me the most is when someone on the opposing team will call a foul on ticky-tack contact.