Exploring New York Through Pickup Basketball

Isaac Eger moved to New York City on a whim: no job, no girlfriend, no aspirations. But he had one curiosity: the city’s mythical ownership of pickup basketball. Were its legendary courts just New York hype? He set out exploring the pick-up courts in what he describes as a “a little stream of consciousness, a little underreported, full of a bunch of first names and first impressions”:

If New York is the city that never sleeps, it is probably because the city never shuts up.

Drowning the shriek of sneakers and the clangs of missed shots is the constant trash talk from the players on and off the court.

“Shoot it! I dare you!”

“You ain’t got nothing.”

“I’m gonna score from the block next time. Wait and see.”

Players on the city’s courts comment on what you wear, how you look, how you smell, what you do, how you blink and breathe. Cries and hoots from the sidelines fill the park when someone gets crossed, blocked or dunked on.

On being close:

Though everything seems to be less than an hour away, people do not appear too inclined to venture far beyond their neighborhood. Perhaps there is a level of comfort that comes with picking a court and sticking with it — like picking your favorite bar or cigarette brand. All of the players seem to know one another’s nicknames, tricks and extended families.

The city’s busy, congested courts have influenced the style of play that takes place on them. For instance, I haven’t run across many pure shooters, but I have encountered a lot of athletes with wicked ball-handling skills. My theory is that because the courts here are so packed with players, there is not enough time or space to practice jump shots.

That is why so many shooters, I suspect, are cornfed boys from the Midwest and prep schoolers from the suburbs: the country and sprawl quarantine them, and they have nothing to do but practice fundamentals by their lonesome.

His conclusion on the guys he played with on the courts:

We weren’t going to be friends. Ever.

But teammates? Perhaps.

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