On Friday, I went to Pueyrreddon court: 24 hours access, decent lighting, and some good quality pick-up basketball at night. The landscape designer was obviously not a ball player (nor know anything about basketball) since surrounding the court there is a one meter wide border of medium sized gravel. Any baller understands that injury might follow a fast drive or any attempt to save an outgoing ball. Puey is my second favourite court in the city.
I encountered a new group of guys that night, outside the usual Argentine bunch: the Venezuelans. I find it funny how most ballers function in packs so, when one group stops going to their usual spot, a new pack comes along. But I’m grateful for this: rotation of people helps me stay on top of my game and also breaks up the boredom of seeing the same moves repeated by the same players.
I arrived at around 7:30pm and found myself with some youngish soccer players throwing up a ball toward the net like a volleyball. Outside the court fence, the grass was covered with bodies hanging out, some walking dogs and other drinking some beer. Beside the court, another enclosed area held what looked like an intense soccer game. The Mitre train passed and its inner lights revealed tired bodies and faces that looked grateful to be going home for the weekend.
Five minutes into some warm up shooting (with a deflated ball) the Venezuelans showed up. This was the second time I’d encountered them on this court. They are different from Argentines I’ve played with, who seem like stone statues in comparison to these guys. And, in turn, the game changes for me, becoming less intense. The ironic thing is this relaxed nature helps me focus and play better.
They all said hi to me with big grins, already starting a round of jokes about my flat ball. To warm up, a round of 21 got started up with my horrible ball.
“We are waiting for the Argentine”, their Head Chef* explained with a smirk, “He has a ball.” The ‘Argentine’, in this context, was singled out since the rest of the guys were Venezuelan. Finally, the ‘Argentine’ arrived and we shot for teams. I got it in and two teams solidified.
Ever since I’ve started playing more with women, my perspective has changed on some of the differences between each gender’s game, as well as 5-on-5 team basketball vs. pick-up ball. On Friday, I noticed two things: passing and communication.
“Go Cinthia Go!”, one of the guys yelled during the game. I had room for a drive, but instead I passed it, seeing that my teammate was open. Playing with women, I noticed there is more circulation of the ball and less isolated moves.
I also noticed a different set of rules for the dialogue in a game. In the first two pick-up games, things were quiet and I found I was talking to myself before I decided not to make any more unnecessary comments. But once we reached the 4th game, everyone loosened up a bit and there were more jokes happening.
“Coco, coco, coco..” The Venezuelan Head Chef cheered as Coco went up for an alley-oop.
Later, by the drinking fountain, I looked at the collection of tattoos the ‘Argentine’ had on his arms as he was drinking. When he finished, he stepped back and I stepped in. He turned to me:
“You’re on fire tonight.”
I tried to smile with water pouring in my mouth.
“They just kept sinking in…”
I straightened up from the fountain. All I could think about was my team’s first ABA game on Sunday.
“I think I was focused..that’s all.”
It is true. There are some nights you feel like a superstar, while others you are playing so badly you wonder what the hell you are doing on the court. But things really click for me when the two important factors of basketball come together: focus and fun.
As everyone was packing up their gear to leave, I ran onto the empty court for one last shot.
Head Chef addressed me:
“We are going for some birra. Wanna come?”
I took a second to think about it and smiled. As the others started leaving, Tattooed Argentine waited for me as I quickly shoved my ball into a bag. Walking off the court, I reaffirmed to myself the importance of after court socializing.
*He works as the head chef in a restaurant.