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The Unwritten Rules of Pick-Up Basketball Games

Updated on November 8, 2017
Dan W Miller profile image

The Vanilla Godzilla was raised in Simi Valley/Thousand Oaks, CA. Veteran, divorced in 1996, kids, grandkids. Lived in Phoenix since 2000.

KCBS named the best courts in Los Angeles with the tougest competition.  Two spots listed were courts I'd haunt. (pictures below)
KCBS named the best courts in Los Angeles with the tougest competition. Two spots listed were courts I'd haunt. (pictures below)

How to Seriously Ball With a Pre-Game Prep

Do you want to be picked every time they ask, “Who’s got next?” These are the universal rules that every real baller knows. If you find out your opponent doesn't follow these unwritten rules, then he doesn't know how to play street ball and I'd recommend takin' it right at him hard and often.

  • Dress to win. Don't wear a football jersey or a wristwatch. Wear basketball (not tennis) shoes. Wear modern apparel. The George Mikan look is dead. No headbands, tight shorts, short shorts, knee pads on both knees (one is acceptable), or girlfriends. There is no alcohol before the game and no food near the court.
  • Have a signature move as you're warming up to show everyone that you know how to play. This will help you get picked up. Mine was a dribble drive with my right hand followed by going behind my back to my left. I would finish with a reverse dunk and stare at everyone momentarily as I hung on the rim for an extra second. Make sure you exhibit a sense of ease with your move. Don't appear as though you're trying to show off even though you are.
  • Make. Your. Free. Throws. Every. Time. Got that? Make 'em! Period. Games usually begin when there are too many on the sidelines and someone will say, "First five (or 10) to make it are in." I'd push my way to get in there first in case there's a second round and if there is the odd, rare occasion I might miss. If there was a job where I had to roll out of bed and knock down a free throw, then I'd be a very rich man.
  • Say check loudly and slap the ball hard just before you flip the ball to your opponent when he takes it out and you're covering. He will check the ball when taking it in from out of bounds or after a basket (at the top of the key). Everyone is awake now. Yelling out ball is also acceptable. A hard bounce pass to him, if you have the ball, is pretty unexpected. So if it throws his rhythm off by just one half of one percent, that's to your advantage. It's one way to get into your opponent's head. It's the little stuff that wins games.

You better be ready to play because this guy will make you look like a fool. Practice alone as well. Wesley Snipes is putting the exclamation point on this dunk.
You better be ready to play because this guy will make you look like a fool. Practice alone as well. Wesley Snipes is putting the exclamation point on this dunk. | Source

Play It Physical, Play in Their Head

Another way to get your opponent's attention or to just bug him is to lightly touch him on the chest if he shoots in front of you. It just bugs guys because it's totally unnecessary. Another method is to constantly push with your arm, your butt, your thigh, anything. Just apply constant hard pressure on his body. Then he'll anticipate it and start pushing back. You'll finally stop your pushing, which will throw him off balance when he goes to push back. You got him!

I saw "The Mailman" Karl Malone get shoved around by an enforcer/goon, the almost great Kurt Rambis. Then late in the third quarter, Malone leaned his big butt in on Rambis with the ball at the low post. But Kurt wasn't there. He just stepped to the side, Karl lost his balance, and he fell on his butt. The crowd laughed loudly. The Mailman was thinking about him too much. Traveling, turnover, Lakers ball. It's the little things.

It's All in Your Confidence Level

Find your spots on the floor and be able to drain those shots in your sleep. Mine was 15 feet out on the baseline coming off the screen and receiving a pass. Turn, jump, and shoot so fast that you hardly need to look at the basket. In fact, eventually practice your shots with your eyes closed. No, really. It's just muscle memory.

Another spot of mine is the elbow on either side of the free throw line. I also do a hook shot from halfway down the right side foul line (like Kareem used to do). I could bank it right off the high corner with a little backspin. I'll be able to do that one until I'm 100 years old. I'll always secure a spot on a team as long as I keep making those shots.

You should never call a foul. Even if you're bleeding, don't call a foul. Don't be a wimp. If there is an obvious foul committed on you...never call a foul! Let someone else call it for you. I've had guys on downtown L.A. courts slug me in the face as I shot a jumper. Never flinched, just drained it. I tripped that bastard as he ran back down the court. He'll look bad if he complains and you just stare at him. When some guy is calling fouls, I'll be sure to thump him to the floor or whack him real hard on his melon when he shoots to show him what a real foul feels like. He'll take the, uh, subtle hint.

I had my own work schedule and showed up at noon or after dark at Van Nuys Sherman Oaks Park off Van Nuys Blvd.
I had my own work schedule and showed up at noon or after dark at Van Nuys Sherman Oaks Park off Van Nuys Blvd. | Source

Important Things to Do

  • You'd better make that outside jumper every time or else you'll look like a ballhog or a gunner if you miss. Otherwise, shoot from close range. Your odds of making it will increase. If you miss, you miss. But if you miss from 20 feet out, everyone will think you're reckless.
  • Under six feet tall? Handle the ball. Pass to the tall guy while driving or make that layup. Over six feet tall? Stay under the basket. Get rebounds and you'll get cheap baskets. Push back with your butt to get distance between you and your defender when calling for the rock. Bend at the waist to stick it out there and you'll also be ready to jump. If you have a big butt, work it to your advantage in that half court. In a full court game, good luck running up and down draggin' that caboose behind ya. You have a big booty and you're not tall? That ain't gonna work at all. Hey! I'm a poet and don't even know it.
  • Make that three pointer from the top of the key every time. Practice these shots. Not quite as much as you should practice making free throws, but you'd better practice it.
  • Give props when you receive a nice pass after you made the basket. Acknowledge a teammate by pointing at them or tell them, "Nice pass."
  • Immediately answer right back with trash talk to whomever talks trash to you. It will shock him because trash talkers usually get the silent treatment from their victims and they will just keep layin' it on you thicker. Get nose to nose (don't touch, however) if you have to and come right back in his face with something short, sharp, witty, or rude immediately after a shot is made and again as many times in a row as you make them. Don't ever let that chump think he can get the upper hand on you!

Louise Park in the east side of the San Fernando Valley was a good spot to find competition after 5 p.m.
Louise Park in the east side of the San Fernando Valley was a good spot to find competition after 5 p.m.

Things Not to Do

  • Just stop arguing if you're involved in a verbal altercation. You don't want this to turn into a brawl. Take the ball and without saying a word, strut right over to the top of the key behind the line and drain that sucker with a cuss word under your breath. Demand the ball afterward, preferably by yelling, "Check it!" No one complains or argues.
  • Don't start trash talk unless you are literally Larry Bird. It will just make your opponent try harder to stuff your tongue down your throat with the ball. While dunking in your defender's face, I would yell out loudly, "I ain't mad at ya!!" Now you have confused him, made him mad, and also scared the living hell out of him.
  • Don't bring your girl. You're there to play, not attend to her needs or worry about guys flirting with her. The ultimate reason you don't want to bring her is in case you get taken to school by some superstar. Then you'll be looking less like the man that she thinks you are.
  • Don't get on your teammate's back if he sucks at b-ball. Just deal with it and make sure he doesn't see the ball for the rest of the game.
  • And last but not least, if at all possible, I recommend that you try to be tall. Yeah, that always worked for me! I was 6'5" and 3/4 inches at my tallest. I'm old now, and humans tend to shrink. I know, it's creepy and I hate it.

The author vamping for the camera as Dennis Rodman. See the resemblance? On court I'm a vampire because I might draw blood.
The author vamping for the camera as Dennis Rodman. See the resemblance? On court I'm a vampire because I might draw blood. | Source

A Personal Redemption Story

Here's an example of being on both sides of the talent spectrum. I rode the bench in high school basketball while our star player was league MVP twice.

Fast forward 10 years later, I'm at my usual court on a Saturday and I see the same B.M.O.C (big man on campus) from high school on the opposing team. Except I could tell he's woefully out of shape and the game hasn't even started. I plainly see his huge gut hanging over his shorts.

When we pair up, I walk uncomfortably close to him and declare, "I got this guy." I can't explain it, but I'm mad at him. Not for anything he did to me while we played in school. He was just too busy and even then he didn't recognize me. I'm upset with him that, in just 10 years, someone with that much talent now looks as though he may give birth on the court.

I took it to him in that game. Without mercy, I dunked on him, made steals, elbowed him, and checked the ball back with a lot more zip on it. I always aimed for his face, which he caught almost every time. Because sure enough, it bounced off his nose once. I wasn't disappointed.

In short, I was being a bully and just shoving him all over the court with more than my usual aggressiveness. It always gets under my opponents skin when I do that. But I was just being plain rude that day. I didn't just beat him. I humiliated him. I never did tell him who I was from our high school days. That might have been just a bit too much for him to take.

When we were done, I saw him with his head down while walking away. Only then did I think I went a bit too far. Only then did I feel sorry for him transforming from a phenom in high school to just another average, washed up basketball player at 28. But I quickly snapped out of it and turned to look over my next set of victims on the sidelines. With a strut and a scowl, I yelled out, "Who's got next?!"

Wrap-up

I've balled on a lot of outdoor courts and (mostly) gyms in and around Los Angeles and Ventura County. I used to go once or twice a week for years to the local open court gyms in Thousand Oaks, the local high schools, to Moorpark College, and Cal Lutheran College. I had a two-hour lunch at work in the city and would go around the corner to Van Nuys Sherman Oaks Park's outdoor court. KCBS-TV Los Angeles named it one of the basketball hot spots in and around the inner city for tough competition.

Everybody wanted me on their side since I was over 6'5". I don’t play now that I’m over 50 because the potential to get a serious injury increases tremendously as you get older. It's just not worth it to be the creepy old limping guy for the rest of my life. Hey, I had my time.

The bottom line is that I proved to myself that I could compete at a high level. Impressing myself was all I was trying to do the entire time.

© 2016 Dan W Miller

Ever Played Some Serious Basketball at Any Level? Got Anything More to Add? Did You Learn Anything?

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