I decided to make my grand return to the asphalt today after a two week absence, spurred on by the fact that the temperature was under 90 degrees for once.
As I walked to the court, I didn’t hear the echo of any bouncing basketballs. I was worried for a second that the one day I had any time to play, the court was going to be empty. Doubts were dispelled when I turned the street corner and finally saw the damn place — it was packed. Julius, Marcus, DeWitt, the pack was all there, along with some peeps I hadn’t seen before, to boot. I realized it was dumb of me that I thought even for a second that the courts were going to be empty. For crying out loud, without school, jobs, these people got all the time in the world to play basketball. Nah, don’t call me condescending; I ain’t dissing those guys. They’re hilarious, down-to-earth, and sociable — I genuinely like and respect them. It’s just the blunt truth that most of these guys are unemployed. I’m telling you, the priorities of the general American populace is out of whack-
Whoa. Glad I caught myself there. Almost went on another rant about our culture’s antagonism towards education.
But anyhow, back to basketball.
So I strolled onto the court and said “I got winners” as casually and fly as I possibly could. I have to practice my Black Man Suaveness before I can go back to NU.
“Hey, I got winners before him,” one random braided-long-hair dude I didn’t know shouted. “By the way, who is this kid? I’ve never seen him around here before.”
Apparently, my suaveness had failed.
“He’s Andy,” Marcus answered, before I could introduce myself as Wally. “Andy’s the man.”
Thank you Marcus.
The dude, hereby to be referred to as Braids until I know his actual name, asked me, “Have you ever played basketball before?”
“Hell yeah. He’s gonna fuck you up,” Marcus responded.
Again, thank you Marcus.
“So what do you do? Can you shoot?” Braids asked.
This time, I made sure to answer before Marcus. “I can shoot, but I’m not very good at it. But I am decent at passing. And I’ll play hard D every possession.”
I could’ve cockily misrepresented myself like everyone else does, but I decided to stay honest. No point in saying I could break rims with tomahawks if I couldn’t back it up.
“Alright, we’ll see what you got,” Braids said.
However, turned out I wouldn’t get my shot to prove myself until later. I thought I had next game, but the winning team shifted some players around and became too fucking tall.
“Sorry Andy, nothing against you, but you’re a bit…short to defend those guys. Is it okay if you sit this one and Marcus plays this round instead?” Braids pleaded.
Marcus was originally going to get in the game after, but I shared Braids’ concern. I didn’t quite want to get mismatched with a six footer. Not a great way of guaranteeing a good first impression. Also, not a great way to guarantee a win. Mismatches are to lost basketball games as baby mamas are to child support. Fortunately for Braids, I was not overly sensitive or delusional.
Well aware of my physical limitations and not exactly wanting to play exhausting post D for an hour, I went along with Braids’ proposal “I gotcha, you can’t teach height. No worries, I’ll play next one after.”
So I thought I was in next game for sure.
But then B came into town, along with his posse.
I’d last seen the guy several weeks ago when I stepped onto the court for the first time, but I hadn’t forgotten his face. B was a mean-looking dude. He had a gap between his buckteeth. Lots of gruffy facial hair and scars on his face. Eyes like those of a komodo dragon. Built like a tank. He looked a tiny bit like a skinner, less hobo-looking Kimbo Slice.
B announced on behalf of his posse, “We got winners.”
Dammit, I had winners. I made it known. He ignored me. Guess he was one of those ‘you-have-to-earn-my-‘spect-before-I-speak-to-you’ types. Some other folks, including Marcus backed me up. An actual, honest thank you this time, Marcus.
“Well, I got my team already,” B complained.
“He was still here first,” Marcus said.
“Yeah..,” was all I could muster. I admit, I was a little bit intimidated.
“I can’t just kick off a guy on my team. How do I know he can even play?”
“Andy can play. He will fuck you up.”
“Here,” B turned to me. “While y’all are finishing up your game, me and him going to play 50. I gotta check his game first.”
“Alright,” I agreed. I was intimated, but I wasn’t about to turn down a challenge.
50 is like 21. It’s a free-for-all in which any number of people can play. Scoring also works the same, with baskets scored outside the three-line worth two points, baskets scored inside worth one, and free throws worth one. The thing is, how you win is different. The winner is not decided by seeing who gets to 50 first. Instead, you have to knock out your opponent with some specialized “personal challenge rules.” After you get to 50, you challenge someone by passing the ball to him. The person checks the ball back, and the court clears of all the other players, so that the game temporarily becomes a one-on-one duel. If you score, the person gets ‘iced’ (eliminated), and you get the chance to pass the ball and challenge another player. If the other person gets possession of the ball, the waiting players come back in, and you’ll have to wait until you score again to attempt another icing.
A couple of other little kids joined in my and B’s 50 game, but they were basically non-factors. Essentially, I was playing one-on-one against B. Frankly, I thought I was going to get massacred. But B went easy enough. He played at half-speed. I didn’t really score against him, but I was able to comfortably keep with him defensively. He displayed some flashy And1 style handles, but wasn’t able to embarrass me. Apparently, that was enough for him. We stopped the game before 10 points were even scored. He complimented my D and told me to get ready for the next game. Looks like I was in. I was happy that I was at least decent enough to earn his respect.
There is nothing especially worth mentioning about the couple of games that I played. B rarely ever passed. And when he did, it was rarer still that I was at the receiving end. (Luckily, when I did get the ball, I usually was able to score, or get a decent assist off. And even if I didn’t, I was still contributing by hustling to set picks and sealing my man on D.) Still, we somehow won both of those games, and won them quite handily, despite not having had much team play and ball movement. All things considered, I played fairly well.
Well enough to get compared to Sasha Vujacic #$&(*#!.
After we won the second game, B acknowledged my defense.
“Man, that kid plays some good D,” B grunted.
“Yeah, he hustles and distracts you. I like him. Pesky…like Vujacic!” DeWitt exclaimed.
I wasn’t too delighted with the comparison. Vujacic has never been a marquee player in the NBA. But I supposed, a compliment is a compliment.
Anyway, as you can see, nothing too momentous about the basketball that was played.
But what was noteworthy was the fact that I seem to have gotten close to getting a glimpse of a gang conflict.
In the middle of the second game, the action abruptly stopped. Without a word, a large part of the guys present began marching out of the courts. For a split second, I wondered whether an alien telepathic signal was responsible for this mass exodus. The few peeps left behind shrugged when I asked them about what was going on. They didn’t know what the hell was transpiring either. I then looked at where the cats were headed and saw that they were walking towards two cars parked outside of the courts. The passengers inside the cars rolled down their windows. Shouting commenced. There was some talk about bluffing, guns being drawn, don’t fuck with me, this is our house, blah blah blah. This went on for about twenty minutes.
“Damn, let’s just shut up and get back to the game. Y’all gonna make the po po come,” Julius muttered in exasperation.
I wondered whether I should quietly leave, lest I be drawn into a world I don’t necessarily want to participate in.
Eventually, the cars drove off. No one had been shanked or filled with holes. The dudes returned to the court to resume and complete the game.
I asked them what the confrontation was all about, and they wouldn’t say.
I left it at that.
I realize that I’ve kinda left my Whartscape recap hanging. I’ll be sure to plug more about tomorrow.