posted by Joe Anaya on June 4th, 2012

Just because I haven’t exercised in two years and have developed a bit of a gut, shouldn’t be cause for forced inscription in a gym. But since I’m married, I wasn’t going to win that argument. One of my favorite, well let’s be honest, the only form of aerobic exercise I enjoy is basketball. Treadmills and stationary bikes bore me within minutes, but basketball keeps me engaged for hours. I’m not particularly good, I typically describe my game as the shooting range of back up center trapped in the body of a Jr. High point guard but I can usually get out of the gym without embarrassing myself. One of the things my age has helped me figure out is the rules of engagement for pick up basketball games.

For those who don’t know, “pick up” is a phrase used to describe the process of going to a basketball court where other people hang around looking to play a game. It’s like a pick up bar, except the goal it is to play basketball with strangers. Strangers who the only thing you know about them is that they want to play basketball too.

All courts are “winners stay,” meaning two teams play and the winning team gets to stay on the court to play against the next wave guys waiting to play. I once got on a team with 4 tall athletic college basketball players; we won a lot of games. This normally is a good thing. Unfortunately, it’s bad form to quit when your team is the winner, so, I stuck it out way past the point where my body wanted to go home. I did my part the first two games (a couple points, a couple rebounds), played solid D the next two games, walked up and down the court the next game, stood around on the defensive half of the court the next two games (I hate cherry picking). Thankfully, we eventually lost, and I could go take a nap.

Here’s another tip, how you dress matters; dress for a workout in the gym. I once got cast in a commercial playing basketball where the director tried to make me wear denim cut-offs (He wanted a rugged urban feel.) Thankfully, the agency rep on set caught the error and yelled at me to get out of “those ridiculous shorts. Nobody who plays ever dresses like that!”

Here’s some players to avoid if possible. Try not to end up on the team with the guy who wears matching shorts and top of his favorite player. That’s a sure sign that he’s not very good but thinks he’s a 5’9” Lebron James. Or worse he’ll complain that he was fouled EVERY time he misses a shot. Also, avoid guarding the guy who sweats a lot. As much as I enjoy the physical nature of basketball, nobody likes rubbing against a guy who works up a liquid glow just walking from the locker to the gym floor. Be prepared for some bumps and bruises when having to guard the old guy with the rec goggles and knee pads. This is a guy who either plays really rough and has the wear-and-tear on his body to show it or he’s supper accident prone and you don’t want your knees around him when he hits the ground for the umpteenth time.

Try to find the right times to fit your mood. Alpha males tend to play before work or right after work. They are highly competitive, letting off steam from their high pressure jobs, still trying to prove themselves athletically and complain a lot about fouls and try to manipulate who’s on their five going in. Off hours tend to have guys with odd jobs. I found a good group who play around 8:30 in the morning, after the Alpha males have rushed off to work. They’re musicians, college professors, a retired NFL All-Pro linebacker (he has nothing to prove athletically), a stunt man, and a couple of other writers. Lots of right brain activity going on and a general level of competition but nobody’s ego is on the line.

Most important to having fun is “Make your first shot.” Remember nobody knows anyone else. Everyone makes instant judgments on whether or not you will help them win and therefore stay on the court. If you miss your first shot, expect to never see the ball again unless you grab a rebound. If you make your first shot, they assume you can shoot and they’ll keep passing the ball to you (unless you miss your next three or four shots). Overall, it’s a great way to get in shape and have some fun with strangers.

File Under Weekend Warrior