I will start my observation of pickup basketball with the moment people leave to go hoop. When people leave to go play basketball, I have noticed that they arrive in many different telling ways. Some people, such as myself, arrive in flip-flops or slides (Flip-flops seem to be a Miami thing. I personally stick to slides), so as to save their court shoes for the court. I was taught this from a young age by my father who always emphasized the need to protect your investment. It made no sense to him why people would spend 100 plus dollars on shoes, just to wear them like “walk-around shoes”, as he liked to call shoes that people wear around on a daily basis. I have also witnessed the opposite train of thought where people choose to wear their shoes around as a way of breaking them in. I personally have never felt the need to break in my shoes, because in my mind “breaking in” is something that just occurs naturally from you playing in them. To be honest, in my experience, the is pretty much no difference in in terms of comfort level of shoes after they are broke in than they were when they were fresh out of the box. But to each his own I guess. There are also those whose basketball shoes are the same shoes they wear every day, “walk-around” shoes as my dad would call them. For the most part all low top shoes fall in to the “walk-around” category. While this is certainly not always the case, most of the time when you see someone walk on the court with shoes like sketchers, new balances, or pretty much any low top shoes not made by Kobe, they are usually not the greatest (If you do not want to be taken seriously, feel free to wear sketchers). This observation is a direct result of the profiling that goes on at every court across the nation when it comes to pick-up basketball. I will speak more on that later.
In order to get to the basketball courts on the campus of the University of Miami you must first pass through the Wellness Center. The Wellness Center, being one of newer buildings on campus from what I have heard, certainly does not leave you with much to be desired. From the fully featured weight room, to the racquetball courts, to an indoor track, the multitude of things that you have access to seem endless. At the risk of turning this observation into an infomercial I will move on to the real reason we are here, the basketball courts. The Wellness Center actually gives you the option to play either indoor or outdoor as there are an abundance of courts both inside and out. I’ll breakdown the outdoor courts first. There are four outdoor courts laid out as two rows of two courts side by side. To be honest I have never been very fond of playing on outdoor courts. Usually the rims show no mercy and if you get knocked to the ground, chances are that you will be getting up with a few of bloody wounds. That’s not even taking into account the damage the asphalt does to your shoes. After one game outside you can wave good bye to any type of grip your shoes may have held claim to when you laced them up that day. Also, I’m not sure if this is the case all the time, but from what I have seen the better players usually play inside anyways. One of the first things I noticed about the outdoor courts was that they seem to be much more laid back than the indoor courts. Whereas there might be multiple instances of arguments and trash talk on the inside, the outdoor courts are mostly filled with good natured encouragement from your teammates. The outdoor courts seem to be the place to go hang with your friends and just have a good time. If you are looking for great competition you probably won’t find that kind of atmosphere on the outdoor courts. Another thing I noticed was that there were not very many people waiting to play on the outdoor courts. So if your team won, you wouldn’t be able to have the satisfaction of kicking the team you just beat off the court and playing the team waiting to come on. You basically end up having a best of seven playoff series that can get kind of boring if the team you are playing is some hot garbage. Another aspect that should not be overlooked is the quality of the balls used outside. Usually on the indoor courts there is someone who brings a nice leather Wilson or Spalding ball. This is not the case outside at all. Consider yourself lucky if the ball you are playing with has any semblance of a grip on it. More than likely the ball used outside is going to be rubber which is not the way to go. The only appeal I can think of that the outdoor courts bring is a place where you can go play with your friends without having to wait to get on the court. Another thing that should be noted is that the water fountains outside are a disgrace to the University of Miami. I mean this in the most serious way possible. I have never tasted water that actually makes you thirstier after you drink it until I had a sip of whatever you want to call the liquid coming out of the fountain. I cannot emphasize enough how terrible this water was. Imagine leaving some stale grits out in the sun, then mixing them with water, and then proceeding to drink that mess. That is reason enough for sane ballers to take their talents to the indoor courts which I will describe next.
The atmosphere of the indoor courts compared to the outdoor courts is night and day. When you walk into the gym you are met by three full size basketball courts lined up side by side. Depending on the time of day one of the courts may be taken by people playing ping pong or some other recreational activity. The three courts are separated by dividers that drop down from the ceiling. Also the indoor track is located right above the courts, so if you feel like getting your jog on while you wait to play, that opportunity is open for you. Another thing of high importance that I noticed was that the water fountains actually tasted like water. The water even had a little bit of a chill to it. Another aspect that should not be underestimated was the presence of air conditioning on the indoor courts. On the outdoor courts you would start sweating before the game even started. At least on the indoor courts your body was forced to actually do something before you worked up a sweat.
As soon as someone arrives to the court the first thing that is that usually comes out of their mouth is “Who’s got next”, almost immediately followed by, “Do you already have five”. This is basically just reserving a spot for yourself on the court’s waitlist. If you ever plan on playing on the court, locking down your place on the waitlist is a must. Even if you have a spot on the waiting list, it is in your best interest to find the first person ahead of you on the list that doesn’t have five players for his team yet. If you decide to just wait for someone to pick you up, or think you are just going to wait it out until you have next, you will be in for a rude awakening. The person who has next can pick up any four players that he wants with no regard to the waitlist. That means if four guys 6’3” and up walk in behind you, they will most likely get picked up before you unless you confront the person who was next. Usually they won’t turn down someone who asks them personally to be on their team if they have an open spot. But there are always those guys who are set on creating a dream team, and may not let you on if you don’t look like you can play. One of the main things I noticed was that the center court seems to attract the best talent, and almost always seems to have someone waiting to get on next. I have actually witnessed three teams waiting in line for the center court when two of those teams could have started up a game on the leftmost court which was open. I asked some of those waiting why they didn’t just play on the open court and the response I got nearly every time was something along the lines of “There’s no competition over there”, or “I want a challenge”. I wanted to break down to them that there was no competition over there because people like them would rather wait 30-45 minutes to play on the center court rather than playing immediately on the free court, but I decided it wasn’t worth it. What is the reason for this being the most overwhelmingly popular train of thought on these courts? It could be because a lot of people have overinflated egos, and believe they are much better than they actually are. Or it could be the result of peer pressure where it seems like the “cool” thing to do. I have seen numerous people refuse to play on the court with others for the simple fact that they believe that they are so much better than another group of people. Personally I would rather play with a bunch of players whose skills were not the best, than just sitting down and not playing at all.