Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Top Draft Picks at Druid Hill Park

One of the rules in pickup basketball is first-come, first-play. That is, those who show up to the
basketball court first are the first to play. Generally there are a lot more players than there are courts to accommodate them, especially in urban areas so some method has to be arrived at to allocate the scarce resource.*

One day back in 1991 my friend, Don and I went to Druid Hill Park in Baltimore which had a reputation for some good basketball being played. We went on a Sunday just after lunch and the action hadn't really heated up yet. In fact, no games had started and that meant Don and I would get at least one game in. Had we shown up when there were games already in progress, the activity at Druid Hill Park is so heavy that it's likely we would have had to wait two or three games to get into one ourselves--if we succeeded at all.

But because we were there early, we waited while enough players wandered over to the courts. Soon we had a complete group of ten and we chose teams. Splitting up into teams can be complicated sometimes but often the easiest way to divide yourselves up is for two of the players to start choosing. It can be based on familiarity, for example if you've played with one of the other players before and know what he can do. Lacking any previous experience with the selection pool, the choice is frequently based on height (and yes, on race sometimes). The choosers are called "captains" but it has little to do with any authority; their role as captain pretty much evaporates after teams are chosen.

Don and I were chosen last and ended up on the same team. We were picked pretty much based on our physical characteristics (we're both 6'3" or taller) and not on any familiarity we had with the two guys doing the choosing.It turns out our team won, mostly due to tenacious defense, sharing the ball with teammates and moving without the ball--things that Don and I both knew how to do.

We were both about 30 years old at the time. Another reliable rule-of-thumb in pickup basketball is that while young players may be fast and good shooters and able to jump better than others, they're generally pretty dumb when it comes to technique, court sense and efficiency. The older folks can exploit this and we both did that day on our way to a win. (See my earlier post on this subject.)

On Sunday the following week we went back just about the same time and like the previous week, the action hadn't started yet. However when it came to choosing sides one of the captains had been on our team the week before. He'd seen Don and I play last week. But the rest of the guys were new and you should have seen their jaws drop when Don was chosen first. The opposing captain then chose one of his buddies from the neighborhood and the first guy then chose me. That was the real shock for the guys who wanted to get picked. Two white guys--the top two draft picks.

*[Interestingly there are sometimes empty courts available but players seem to gravitate toward the crowded, more popular courts. It's very similar to nightclubs and trendy spots in a city; there are plenty of watering holes available but most people want to go to the one they feel everyone else is headed, hence the velvet ropes outside the hottest clubs in town while others are empty.]

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