Basketball hope springs eternal for us hacks

Watching Mateen Cleaves lead Michigan State to the NCAA championship and having consistent good weather is enough to inspire even the worst ballplayers to head to the park and relive their nonexistent glory days.
Basketball fantasies always reach a fevered-pitch this time of year. Even the highbrow Atlantic Monthly’s current issue features a profile of “The Best Pickup Basketball Player in America.” His name is Allan Dalton, a 51-year-old vice president of a realty corporation who almost turned pro in the 1970s. He spends his free time combing the streets of Harlem and Brooklyn for the absolute best pickup games in New York City.
The story romanticizes the lifestyle of committed pickup players who actually know the fundamentals, set picks, make crisp no-look passes, consistently can the open jumper and run flawless fast breaks.
But before you get too wrapped up in your fantasies of running plays like your heroes, remember this: Unless you’ve been a gym rat all winter, you suck.
Face it. In your condition, it’s incredibly hard to catch a long pass at top speed, collect yourself and make a layup. Making a tip-in or a below-the-rim alley-oop requires strength and coordination. Finishing fancy moves and give-and-gos are much harder than they look. Hell, you only make 30 percent of your jumpers when no one is guarding you.
However, no matter how bad you are, you can still play in fun, competitive games. For the next couple of months, you’ll see the worst that pickup basketball has to offer. Our parks will be flooded with your layup-blowing, airball-shooting, pass-dropping, double-dribbling peers.
Now that my knee is functioning again, I intend to take part and regain the title of worst pickup basketball player in Minnesota. The trick is finding the right game. As an underweight, 5-foot-6 post player who last warmed the bench in eighth grade, I am an authority on this subject.
First, own up to your shortcomings and evaluate your skills like an advance scout would. Here’s mine: short, unathletic player generally makes layups, has post-moves that are effective against shorter, less athletic players, and often fakes the jumper to drive in for a layup. Scores most of his points by squirming in for an offensive rebound. (Note: No one has ever seen this player shoot from outside the paint).
Here’s a guide to finding hapless hoopster heaven.
ùParks: There’s an inverse correlation between average neighborhood income and quality of pickup game. Also consider the size of the court.
ùCourts: Regulation courts attract talented players. Never enter a full-court game. If two half-court games are going on, you might want to check those out instead. Personally, I like the tiny courts with two baskets — they’re even better if the hoops are only 9 feet high. The small courts often attract the skilled, but out-of-shape, older players who add a semblance of order to the game, but cannot dominate it.
ùFouls: If the players actually call non-shooting fouls, the game is probably even too wussy for you. These players will act as if shoving them under the basket when going for a rebound is a foul. (If so, there goes half my game).
If only the flagrant shooting fouls are called, the players obviously have no pride or “street cred,” so you should fit in fine. A tactic that has worked well for me is bashing into a bigger player setting a screen. If a foul is called, I might be the best player on the court. If I bounce off and land on my butt while play continues, it’s time to find a new game.
ùRebounds: Check for tall people. I leave if a number of people are over 6-feet tall. If not, see if anyone even attempts to box out. This is a rudimentary basketball skill that I prefer my opponents do not have.
After entering a game in which everyone moved directly under the hoop, I got nine offensive boards and converted seven put-backs.
ùFind morons: Above everything else, nothing makes a game fun like personal success. And nothing is more fun than scoring points and being “The Man.” This only happened once, but it made scouting out the parks worthwhile. The guy defending me went up to block every 17-footer I faked, allowing me to go in for a layup.
And he never learned.
So I kept doing it. I even passed to open players off the dribble. At game point, my teammates made sure I got the ball, and I made the winning shot.
As great a feeling that was, I might never experience it again.
Thinking I had finally found “my park,” I returned two days later to find a couple of decent high school players dominating the game. It wasn’t fair.
These guys could hold their own in much more competitive games, but came to the park so they could be the big fish in a small pond. I was no longer the star, but I still had fun.
However, it only took about a week before these junior Jordans scared off the more inept older and younger players and attracted some stiffer competition, once again making me the often-ignored-on-offense, worst player on the court. Now, I had to actually work on my game or find another park.
So the search continues.

Ed Day, Humphrey Institute