This past Saturday I played basketball for a couple of hours out in New York City’s Chrystie’s fields. It’s not the meanest place in Manhattan, but there certainly were a lot of young men out there taking advantage of the first nice day in the city in a while.
I don’t get a chance to play basketball all that much any more. Between working at work, working at home, tutoring and coaching on the weekends and working some more, it’s hard enough to get in the gym, never mind dedicate a couple of hours, plus the necessary recover time, to playing basketball.
But I was out there. Several friends from work and I are joining a basketball league, and we thought we would try to get a sense of our talent level by getting in a couple of games. We played four-on-four half court four several hours, avoiding the ever-likely chance that a full-court game would destroy our 20-something year old bodies, no matter how young our birth certificates suggest we are.
My game was a little rusty, and the explosion I once had from playing basketball day in and day out and training in the weight room is no longer there. Of course, the cheeseburgers and Sunday pizzas probably didn’t help either. But the talent level is the same. The shot eventually felt a little bit more natural, and the post-up game is a live and well. My handle with the rock isn’t what it used to be with my left hand, but I think that will come back to me if I focus on that aspect of my game whenever we are practicing.
But you don’t want to hear about my game, my friends’ games or the how well we did out there in the mean streets of the Lower East Side. So I want to tell you any of that.
What I will do is paint a picture. Paint a picture of a spectacle that is oft-covered by still underrated. Basketball in New York City is big. It may be cold as hell out here for most of the year, but there is a dedication to this sport from its residents that is second to none.
Coming from Texas, we played basketball outside all year long. For as much credit as football gets, basketball is still a much easier game to set up and pretend as if you are a professional player on your home court. That said, my athlete friends and I were a little special. We played basketball outside for about a month straight during a terrible Heat Wave in 1998. I remember dribbling my basketball for 3 to 4 miles just to get to the court at 1 or 2pm in the afternoon under the blazing Texas sun.
New Yorkers, of course, don’t have to worry about heat—it’s the cold that’s a bitch. But this part Saturday, the weather finally bent. And like that first day of reasonable warm weather in the city in which every young lady in Manhattan comes out in a sun dress, this day of moderately warm weather had everybody with a basketball at the courts. It was only 50 degrees, windy and humid, but if you didn’t get out and play basketball on that day, you just didn’t want to play.
People were out in swarms, with big time games going down on some courts and friendly pick-ups going down on others, it was not-so-beautiful, beautiful day for basketball.
As for the picture I said I’d paint, perhaps I was a little over zealous. Unless guys talking trash, barking at each other, swinging to the hoop, setting picks and shooting the shit seems like the mental picture you want to set yourself in, perhaps this day of basketball in New York City isn’t for you. But it was perfect for me and the hundreds, if not thousands, of Lower East Siders, that played or watched basketball over the weekend. And if you want to know what that feeling was like, and you’ve never had your taste of New York City hoops, maybe, just maybe, I’ll see you on the court one Saturday in the future.