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The Unwritten Rules of Pick-Up Basketball Games

Updated on March 27, 2017

You're on their turf. Don't start anything but if your opponent wants to start some "trash talk" immediately come back with something funny.

I had my own work schedule and showed up at noon or after dark at Van Nuys Sherman Oaks Park off V.N. Blvd  Just an observance: I was the only white guy at these games.
I had my own work schedule and showed up at noon or after dark at Van Nuys Sherman Oaks Park off V.N. Blvd Just an observance: I was the only white guy at these games.
Louise Park in the east side San Fernando Valley was a good spot to find competition after 5 p.m.
Louise Park in the east side San Fernando Valley was a good spot to find competition after 5 p.m.

How To Seriously "Ball"

Do you want to be picked every time when they ask, “Who’s got next!”? These are the universal rules that every REAL "Baller" knows. If you find out your opponent doesn't follow these unwritten rules, then he doesn't know how to play street ball and I'd recommend takin' it right at him hard and often.

* Dress to win. Don't wear a football jersey or a wristwatch. Wear BASKETBALL (not tennis) shoes. Wear modern apparel. The George Mikan look is dead. No headbands, tight shorts, short shorts, no knee pads on BOTH knees (one is acceptable,) no girlfriends, no alcohol before the game and no food near the court.

* Have a signature move as you're warming up to show everyone that you know how to play and so you'll get chosen (or "picked up.") Mine was a dribble drive with my right hand, go behind my back to my left, then reverse dunk and stare at everyone momentarily as I hung on the rim for an extra second. Make sure you exhibit a sense of ease with which you do it and not appear as though you're trying to show off but actually YOU ARE!

* Make. your. free. throws. every. time. Got that? MAKE 'EM! Period. Games usually begin when there are too many on the sidelines and someone will say, "First 5 (or 10) to make it are in." I push my way to get in there first in case there's a second round ("First 5... " then that's that and no more) and on the odd, rare occasion I might miss. If there was a job where I had to "roll out of bed and knock down a free throw," then I'd be a very rich man.

* Say, "check" loudly and slap the ball hard just before you flip the ball to your opponent when he takes it out and you're covering. He will check the ball when taking it in from out of bounds or after a basket (at the top of the key.) Everyone is awake now. Yelling "ball!" is also acceptable. A hard bounce pass to him, if you have the ball, is mostly unexpected then change up with a bullet at his neck. So if it throws his rhythm off just one half of one percent, that's to your advantage and one way to get into your opponent's head. The little stuff.

* Another way to "get your opponent's goat" or attention or just bug him is to lightly touch him on the chest if he shoots in front of you. It just BUGS guys because it's totally unnecessary. Another is to push and push and push and push with your arm, your butt, your thigh. Just apply constant hard pressure on his body. Then he'll anticipate it, start pushing back and the one time you don't push, he'll push back, be off balance because you won't be there. Then YOU GOT HIM!

I saw "The Mailman" Karl Malone get shoved around by "enforcer/goon" the near great Kurt Rambis. Then late in the third quarter, Malone leaned his big butt in on Rambis with the ball at the low post. But Kurt wasn't there. He just stepped to the side, Karl lost his balance and fell on his butt. The crowd laughed loudly. "The Mailman" was thinking about him too much. Traveling, turnover, Lakers ball. It's the little things.

* "Winner's out" (whichever team made the last shot) always. But no need to say it, just do it. Take it from the top of the key (in a half court game.) No dribbling in. Always via pass. If a ball goes out of bounds under the basket or baseline, most times you can just "take it out" at the top of the key. The other team will usually allow it. Again, just do it. Just like kissing your date. NEVER ASK.

It's All In Your Confidence Level

* Find your "spots" on the floor and be able to drain those shots in your sleep. Mine was 15 feet out on the baseline coming off the screen and receiving a pass. Turn, jump and shoot so fast you don't hardly need to look at the basket. In fact, eventually practice them with your eyes closed. No really. It's just muscle memory.

Another is the elbow on either side of the free throw line and the hook shot from halfway down the right side foul line (like Kareem would do it.) Bank it right off the high corner with a little backspin. I'll be able to do that one until I'm 100 years old thus securing a spot on a team as long as I keep making them.

* Never, EVER call a foul. Even if you're bleeding don't call a foul. Don't be a wimp. If there is an obvious foul committed on you... NEVER CALL A FOUL. Let someone else call it for you. I've had guys on downtown L.A. courts haul off and slug me in the face as I shot a jumper. Never flinched, just drained it. Then tripped that bastard as he ran back down the court. HE'LL look bad if HE complains and you just stare at him. When some guy is calling fouls, I'll be sure to thump him to the floor or whack him real hard on his melon when he shoots to show him what a real foul feels like then say, "Now THAT'S a foul." He'll take the uh "subtle" hint.




Some Important Numbers: 20, 6, 3

You'd BETTER make that outside jumper every time o r else you'll look like a "ballhog" or "gunner" if ya miss. Otherwise shoot from in close and your odds of making it are increased. If you miss, you miss but if you miss from 20 feet out, everyone will think, "Anybody can do that."

* Under 6 ft tall? Handle the ball. Pass to the tall guy while driving or make that lay-up. Over 6 ft tall? Stay under the basket. Get rebounds and you'll get cheap baskets. Push back with your butt to get distance between you and your defender when calling for "the rock." Bend at the waist to stick it out there and you'll also be ready to jump. If you have a big butt, work it to your advantage in that half court. In a full court game, lots of luck running up and down draggin' a caboose behind ya. You have a big booty and NOT tall? That ain't gonna work at all. (Hey! I'm a poet and don't even know it.)

* Make that 3 pointer from the top of the key every time. Any discrepancies, like a disputed foul call, universally, this is where you settle it. Practice that one not quite nearly as much as you practice making free throws. But you'd better practice it.

* Just stop arguing immediately if you're involved in a verbal altercation. You don't want this to turn into a brawl. Take the ball and without saying a word, strut right over to the top of the key behind the line and drain that sucker with a cuss word behind it. Demand the ball afterward with a, "check it!" Your ball out. No one complains or argues and the unwritten rule is there is no chance to tie it. You ARE going to need that trey at the top of the key eventually so practice it.

* Give "props" when you received a nice pass after you made the basket (acknowledge by pointing at the teammate) or say, "Nice pass."

* Immediately answer right back with "trash talk" to whomever "talks trash" to you. It will shock him because trash talkers usually get the silent treatment from their victims and then they will just keep layin' it on you thicker. Get nose to nose (don't touch, however) if you have to and come right back in his face with something short. sharp, witty and rude IMMEDIATELY after A MADE shot and again as many times in a row as you make them. Don't let that chump think he can get the upper hand on you EVER!

Here Are The "Don'ts"

* Don't START trash talk unless you are LITERALLY Larry Bird. It will just make your opponent try harder to stuff your tongue down your throat with the ball. While dunking in your defender's face, yell out loudly, "I ain't MAD at ya!!" (I always did.) Now you have confused him, made him mad and also scared the living hell out of him.

* Don't bring your girl. You're there to play not "attend to her needs," watch guys flirt with her, worry about her or the ultimate reason, in case you get "taken to school" by some super star. Then there you are looking less than the man that she THINKS you are.

* Don't get on your teammate's back if he sucks at b-ball. Just deal with it and make sure he doesn't see the ball much at all the rest of the game .

And last but not least, if at all possible, I recommend... Try to be tall. Yeah. That always worked for me!

You'd better be ready to play because THIS GUY will make you look like a fool. Practice alone also.
You'd better be ready to play because THIS GUY will make you look like a fool. Practice alone also. | Source

Making it personal

Here's an example of being on both sides of the talent spectrum. I rode the bench in high school basketball while our star player was league MVP twice. Fast forward ten years later, I'm at my usual court on a Saturday and I see the same B.M.O.C "Big Man On Campus" from high school on the next team... EXCEPT he's woefully out of shape. The game hasn't even started but I could plainly see his huge gut hanging over his shorts.

When we pair up, I walk uncomfortably close to him and declare, "I got this guy." I can't explain it, but inwardly I'm mad at him. Not for anything he did to me while on the team at school. He was just too busy and even then didn't recognize me. I'm upset with him that in just ten years someone with that much talent now looks as though he may give birth on the court.

With fury and quite often I "took it to him" that game. Without mercy I dunked on him, made steals and "checked the ball" back with a lot more zip on it and always aimed for his face which he caught almost every time. Because sure enough I wasn't disappointed and it bounced off his nose once.

In short, I was being a bully and just shoving him all over the court with more than my usual aggressiveness that I liked to exhibit. It always gets under my opponents skin when I do that. But I was just being plain rude that day. I didn't just beat him. I humiliated him. Never did tell him who I was from our high school days. That might have been just a bit too much for him to take.

When we were done I saw him with his head down, walking away and only then did I think I went a bit too far. Only then did I feel sorry for him from being a phenom in high school to just another average basketball player at 28 and washed up already. But I quickly snapped out of it and turned to look over my next set of victims on the sidelines. With a strut and a scowl, I yelled out, "OK, WHO'S GOT NEXT?!"

Dan W. Miller a.k.a. "The Vanilla Godzilla"

About the author:

I've balled on a lot of outdoor courts and (mostly) gyms in and around Los Angeles and Ventura County. I used to go once or twice a week for years to the local "open court" gyms of Thousand Oaks, the local high schools, at Moorpark College and Cal Lutheran College. I also had a two hour lunch at work in The City and would go to Sherman Oaks Park's outdoor court.

Everybody wanted me on their side when you're over 6' 5". I don’t even play now that I’m over 50 because the potential to get a serious injury increases tremendously the older you get. Just not worth it to be the creepy old limping guy the rest of my life.

Bottom line is: I proved to MYSELF that I could compete at a high level and that’s all I was trying to do the entire time... impress myself.

Keep in the back of your mind when you're in someone else's "crib" - A fight might happen | Source

Ever played some serious basketball at any level? Got anything more to add? Did you learn anything?

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