Don’t Be That Guy: Pickup Basketball Etiquette 101

Basketballers
No ref, no rules – right? Not quite…
There’s nothing better than hitting the neighborhood court for a game of pickup basketball with your buddies. Not only is it a good workout; it’s also a chance to blow off steam after a long work day, or reconnect with friends you don’t get to see often. Playing a casual game is a blast, but just because there’s no official ref on the court doesn’t mean you should let chaos reign. Nothing spoils a good pickup basketball game like someone who thinks they own the court, or somebody who tries to police the action.

Take it from us: You don’t want to be that guy (or girl) who doesn’t get invited back next time. You don’t have to be Steph Curry to be a great teammate – here are some of our best tips to keep things civil on the court.

Don’t Be a Show-Off
Have you been playing basketball since you got out of diapers? Cool story, bro.

Just as nobody likes the professional singer who shows up at karaoke night (seriously, stop rubbing it in); nobody wants to get schooled by Kobe’s protégé. It’s great if you’ve got a few more skills than the average pickup player – but it’s worth it to observe and assess how well everyone else is playing, and make small adjustments. We’re not saying you need to slow yourself down, but it’ll definitely be appreciated if you can play on approximately the same level as your team. Being a ball hog, and showing off your wicked slam dunk techniques, makes you look more like a glory hound than a team player.

Another thing to watch out for: Trying too hard to show off how much you know about basketball. AskMen points out that while the pickup court is a great place to meet new friends, you can just as easily scare them off just as easi scare them off by constantly dropping all the obscure facts you know about NBA teams past and present. Perhaps the best advice from the piece: “most guys just want a man on their team who can rain threes, not Rain Man.” Take that to heart.

Play to Your Skill Level
So, you know what to do if you happen to be too good – but what if you’re below average at basketball? This is where it pays to know both your strengths and weaknesses; and to choose a position that works for you, rather than the one you’d like to play. Try not to do everything at once, and understand that not everyone on the team will be awesome in every area. AskMen advises, “If you’re new, or you’ve played a while and just enjoy the game and a good workout, all most guys ask is that you don’t shoot too much, you don’t turn the ball over and you try fairly hard on defense. That’s it.” Clearly you want to put in your best effort – but remember that if you’re bad at taking three-point shots, or can’t dribble without unintentionally traveling, the pickup court isn’t where you’re going to improve. It’s where you go to have a good, casual time with buddies.

While this is advice for you personally (rather than the team as a whole), having correct footwear shouldn’t be overlooked. Obviously you’re not going to hit the hardcourt wearing your wingtips from the office – but it’s actually worse if you wear plain old sneakers that have no support. Invest in a good pair of shoes specifically for athletic performance. Your teammates will thank you when you’re going hard for the whole game, instead of limping through the final quarter.

As for the rest of your outfit, there’s a strong understanding in pickup basketball that wearing a team jersey is definitely out. While you may relish the chance to show off your NBA team loyalties, the jerseys you can buy aren’t exactly prime pickup uniforms, since they can chafe and become pretty uncomfortable. (Take it from grantland, on the topic of wearing a game jersey: “My nipples were chafed almost as bad as my feelings.”) You also leave yourself open for a lot of heckling if your jersey’s player had a rough game recently. Stick to a comfortable shirt, preferably made out of material that can wick the sweat away from your body, and keep you from becoming too slippery to guard (not in the good way).

Speaking of sweating through your shirt – there’s a lot of contention about whether or not you should keep your shirt on. We say it depends on your comfort level, and the climate where you live. If it’s a scorcher of a day in San Diego, and everybody’s doffing their t-shirts, by all means go for it. Just remember to also keep hydrated on those sweltering days.

Know When to Toss Out the Rulebook
It’s fun to pretend that you’re stepping on an NBA hardcourt when you’re getting ready for some pickup, but remember that the laws of the jungle are different when you’re not on the pro court. In other words, not everything is played by the official rulebook – particularly if you’re with a group of friends who’ve played pickup together for a long time, and have developed their own deviations from the normal rules. Be aware of the specific rules of the group you’re playing with; and don’t be too much of a stickler for playing by the NBA rulebook. Chances are the changes are small ones, and typically made to make the pickup game flow more easily, so just go with it.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…
If you’re dominating the game, it’s tempting to unleash a little smack talk – even more so if you’re playing with friends. While close friends likely understand your jokes and jabs, anyone new to the court might not take your trash talk in such a cavalier manner. Worse still, you could invite confrontation that leads to much stronger verbal – or even physical – battles. Grantland notably points out that many pickup players aren’t full-time athletes anyway; so it’ll be hard to even catch enough breath to banter back and forth, let alone drop some zingers on your opponents.

Keep your sportsmanship close and don’t take things too personally, especially if your team is on the losing end. Ragging on someone else’s skills can come across as abrasive and annoying; and if you consistently make people feel terrible, you most likely won’t be invited to play next time.

Stay Casual and Have Fun

It’s amazing how great a game of pickup basketballh can make you feel – fitting in a little competition, exercise, and social time all in one – but it can easily have the opposite effect, if you’re a jerk on the court. The main point of pickup is to get a good workout and have clean, healthy fun. So keep basic pickup etiquette in mind; it could mean the difference between making new drinking buddies, and being ostracized from the neighborhood court.

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