Where’s the D?


So I’ve been playing a lot of basketball lately.

In the fall/winter, I’m a part of a Thursday-night New Rochelle game. It’s perhaps the lowest-caliber hoop I’ve ever seen—lots of sloppy passing, no picks, many airballs. The average age is, oh, late 40s, and the games are often bottomless—no score-keeping, just play and play and play. As fas as competition goes, not great. But the men who play are wonderful people, and everyone has fun.
Twice, during the spring, I played in a Sunday-morning game of high-caliber ballers. Average age: 33-ish. A handful of D-III-level players. People set screens, pick and roll, play D. It’s great.

Most recently, I’ve been playing Monday nights at the New York Sports Club in White Plains. Hence, this entry. These games remind me of my younger days, when I’d play three times per week at the downtown Y in Nashville, or at the outside courts near the University of Illinois. Lotsa shit talking, ball hogs aplenty, invisible defense. Last week someone was spewing so much yang, and I actually snapped back, “Bitch, what the …” Then I stopped. I’m 37, with two kids and a mortgage.

I enjoy the playground stylings of basketball. The speed, the attitude. But it’s also insanely frustrating. The participants are young, dumb and only concerned with getting their shots off. Throughout my life, I’ve been a pretty limited player: One offensive move (the Dan Monaghan-influenced Pump Fake), sharp elbows, solid rebounder, long-armed shot blocker. In my high school and college leagues I was the designated David Wingate, assigned to stick the opposing team’s best player and keep him in check. If I score a point or two—gravy.

Last night, we played against a doughy kid with myriad tattoos and an insane jumper. The best offensive player on our team insisted on covering him, and he got repeatedly lit. So I said, “Lemme give it a try.” It was pure bliss—with a hand in his face, Doughy couldn’t hit anything. Defense can be surprisingly simple, especially against slower shoot-first guys: Watch their hips, pull in as soon as the elbow bends, don’t leave your feet for any sort of fake. Doughy kept saying, “Damn, my shot’s off,” but I knew it wasn’t his shot—it was that someone tall and long  (I’m 6-2) actually decided to guard him.

There’s still a place for defense and passing in pickup hoop. It just needs to come from an old fart …