Polideportivo court of Devoto: my home-court in Buenos Aires. A polideportive is a collection of outdoor courts: tennis, soccer, volleyball, and in this case, a slightly unkempt basketball court enclosed by a high fence. In the summer, you can feel the temperature rise from the heat trapped in the asphalt as you walk through the gates. On the sides, palm trees stand tall and patches of grass line the long block that makes up this poli.
I consider this my home-court because it was the first basketball court I stepped on when I came to Buenos Aires. I remember discovering it from the terraza of my cousin’s house, at the time a block away. I hadn’t played basketball in months and seeing the bodies moving around the court from afar stirred excitement in me. Now, after more then a year, I have memorized all of the cracks on the court and know where the sun is going to hit the court, depending on the season.
Sunday is the day I usually go to play at Devoto. As the sun begins to descend toward the horizon, I turn the corner of Joaquin V. Gonzalez, getting mentally prepared for whatever awaits me. I get closer and see that the court is quiet, with only a few bodies shooting around. I recognize El Muerto, one of the older guys. His long hair that falls down to his waist is tucked under a hat today.
Diego is also there; he is about my age and always comes dressed well to the court, with double studded diamonds in his left ear and a shirt-short colour matching combination.
That is another thing about one’s home-court: you become familiar with most of the personalities who hang out there. I guess you build a certain level of comfort and, in turn, know who to pick for a team, who to talk to, and who to avoid.
I say “Hi” to them both and quickly pry my bag open for my shoes swap.
While doing this, I notice a girl sitting on the edge of the court, feet dangling, with an extremely bored look on her face. Girlfriend, I think.
As I step onto the court, there is the general court gossip. After three minutes and a small pause, Diego walks over to the girl, giving her a light kiss. Territory marking, my mind pops from some behavior psychology book tucked in my memory. I wonder if he feels uncomfortable talking with me with his girlfriend at such close range.
We shoot around for a while. Twenty minutes go by and two other guys show up. I have never seen them before, but they seem energetic and ready to go. A 2-on-2 game gets started. I get paired up with the Diego and the two new guys form a team, while El Muerto sits out for this round.
The game starts up and, out of habit, I take on the lower and more defensive post position, while Diego plays higher, a more offensive role.
A couple of minutes into the game, the negative comments begin.
“What are you doing?” Diego exclaims, after I shoot quickly from way outside my shot range. “Bring it in closer and then shoot.”
I know he is right, but his impatience frustrates me. Pointing out mistakes can be useful, but not when they are constant and negative.
He passes me a fast ball, high up, and it slips from my fingers, going out.
“It is obvious someone has some paja*,” he grumbles as the other team gets the ball.
“Stop whining and move!” I retort, imitating his criticism.
We get the ball back.
“Let’s see this paja,” I say. The guy defending me chuckles at my comment.
I pass Diego a slamming ball right by the rim and he gets it in, nice and easy.
He is a bit quieter after that, pulling out a snappy comment once in a while. We have never had good court chemistry, partly because of our personalities. But it is also because he forces the ball with multiple isolated drives instead of passing it. Basically, he likes to do all of the scoring. This works for 2-on-2 basketball, but there are only so many points he can make on his own. I know that if he’d pass me the ball more often we’d easily win.
Basic rule on the court: passing is one of the fastest things you can do. I learnt this quickly from being on a team; if there is successful circulation of the ball, a team has more options to score.
Halfway through the first game, one of the new guys walks off. He is out of breath, so El Muerto takes his place. We play for another bit while the court darkens and the outdoor lights flicker on. The game ends and Diego packs up in a hurry – his girl has disappeared. I joke about how we always get paired on the same team and his reply is, “But we always win” – because of him, he means to say. I reply with a sarcastic sound as he walks away.
Night time is here and I look up at the stars while saying goodbye to El Muerto. The two players left are shooting around, waiting to be kicked out. I stay a bit longer, musing and stretching on the ground, feeling the warm asphalt under me.
*A mix between a hangover and laziness.