Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Monday Night Game

            Every Monday night, my dad and I make the journey around the corner to our synagogue.  We don’t go to attend services or study Torah—we go to play basketball.  This isn’t just any kind of basketball though; this is basketball of a unique variety.  In the gym of my beloved alma mater, Krieger Schechter, we lace up our sneakers and play some ball.
            Walking into the gym has a special feel to it.  The rubber floor is deceptively tough, lashing out a horrible burn to whoever dares dive for a loose ball.  The purple bleachers that line the side of the court are a reminder of the unfortunate purple and green color scheme of the KSMS Lions.  Miscellaneous sporting equipment, balls, and pads are scattered around the gym and we must always clean off the court before we can even begin to think about starting a game.
            Finally, once the court is cleared, people have stretched, and everyone’s had their fair share of warm up shots, we split up the teams.  Usually, 2 or 3 guys take it upon themselves to split up the teams as evenly as possible.  This almost always evolves into heated arguments.  What most of the players fail to realize is that whenever a team is deemed to be at a disadvantage, or “unfair,” they miraculously (or perhaps not so miraculously) always end up winning the game.  The fact of the matter is that in a pickup basketball game for 18-50 year olds it’s pretty hard to predict who will and won’t play well.
            As I’m sure you can already imagine, this game is full of interesting characters.  Every pickup game has its quirks, and this one is no exception.  First there’s my dad.  A relic of what once was a pretty darn good basketball player, he hides behind his aging and injured 5’5” frame.  He holds the world record for most fouls called in a game, and he always abides by his mantra “survive to play another week.”  Nevertheless, when he finds himself open for a jumper, my dad’s still got that silky smooth form.  For the most part, Aaron Max is a quiet player, only voicing his opinions when absolutely necessary; he’s the mediator and always keeps the game in check.
            Next, there’s one of my favorite players, the other Aaron.  Intense as anyone, he gets very excited about every facet of the game.  From making teams to shot selection, he makes his voice heard about everything.  He goes hard for every ball, and despite the fact that he obviously never played competitive basketball; he has a pretty decent jump shot.  The funniest part of his game is when he makes a mistake, perhaps a travel.  He immediately puts the ball down on the ground and without words sprints the other way down the court.  In the end, he’s fun to play with and always keeps the game interesting.
            Then, there’s another one of my favorites.  I still haven’t caught his name; whatever it is, it’s foreign and quite difficult to pronounce.  Standing at about 6’8” and 250 lbs. he has absolutely no basketball skills.  Still, he demands the ball in the post and misses about 87% of his layups.  On the other hand, he’s a really nice guy and acts as a supportive cheerleader no matter what the situation.
            One of the most skilled players in the game, and a former soccer goalie, Tim is pretty fun to watch.  He doesn’t always hustle up and down the court, but his post moves are pretty spectacular.  When he wants the ball, instead of calling for it he does this little whoop that makes me giggle each time I hear it.  He likes to be a bit of a coach, but his comments are pretty much exclusively helpful and insightful.  Overall, he’s a pretty good guy to play with.
            One of the quieter guys is Hal.  He doesn’t do anything too crazy, but he’s a really good athlete and can shoot the basketball.  If I had to guess I’d say he probably played football or lacrosse.  He’s tall and built, but for some reason he doesn’t like driving to the basket.  Instead, he always pulls up for the jumper (which he usually makes).
            There’s also Harold and Charles, the elders of the group.  They both know their respective games well.  Harold is a point guard who sees the court well and Charles sets some bone crushing picks.  Both of them have a knack for hitting the open 3.
            Jeff is perhaps the craziest—a really nice guy, but totally crazy.  He lacks any sort of basketball fundamentals, yet he runs all over the court, getting steals and fouling hard.  He’s a turnover machine, but every once in a while he’ll make a shot that makes you say wow.
            Last, but certainly not least, there’s Mike.  Let me begin by saying that he’s a talented athlete.  He’s big, he has a decent jump shot, and he knows how to finish around the hole.  These are all signs that point to a good basketball player, but that is something that he certainly is not.  When his team gets the ball, Mike should run down the court and post up on the block.  Mike prefers to play point guard.  When you miss a shot, Mike will tell you to pass the ball around more.  On the ensuing possession, when you pass it to him just like he asked, Mike will shoot it from 5 feet behind the three point line and brick horribly.  At least once a week Mike will throw a horribly ill-advised pass, zooming at 60 miles per hour and nearly missing someone’s head.  Needless to say, I hate playing with Mike.
            Together, we are The Monday Night Game.  Every week we meet up and for 2 hours we play the best sport there is to play.  We make shots, call fouls, argue, win, and lose.  When I invited my friend Max to play with me a few weeks ago, I didn’t know what he would think.  Turns out he loved it, and has now become a regular—one of the guys.  Just like me, he looks forward to going out and playing every Monday.  So I guess I’m not crazy; there’s something about The Monday Night Game that you just can’t find anywhere else.

P.S. this is a pretty accurate post on the 12 types of pickup basketball players:

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