The night was overcast on Friday, with the full moon coming in and out of clouds. Earlier, before leaving my house, I had checked the weather and there was no call for rain, but I have never really trusted the weather man. I decided to go, at least to do a bit of shooting.
Having the court all to myself, I practiced my shot, dribbling, and sprints with the ball. After about an hour, I started getting ready to call it a night, but as I was packing my ball I saw three guys with a motorbike roll in. I paused, trying to subtly sense their vibe without staring. I tried to see if I knew any of them: one was tall and skinny and the motorbike was his. The second was also fairly skinny, but with a bigger build on the top, wearing a hat. And the third was shorter, with dark curly hair. I confirmed that I didn’t recognize any of their faces and slowly pulled my ball back from out of my bag. The thought of playing a game of 2-on-2 was too much for me, especially with new ballers.
As I headed back to my side of the court, I watched them donate a net to one of the rings on the court. Tall Bike guy stood on the seat of his motorbike and slowly hung the net, while the other two spotted him. They were also looking back at me and it suddenly hit me: I had discovered the night crew. I somehow had slid into another time interval of ballers. This thought propelled me to go to the other end of the court and strike up some conversation.
I started with a joke about the net and their response was friendly, but not very enthusiastic. These aren’t the Venezuelans, I told myself. After the net was up and running, we tested it out and the conversation was chill. I tried sensing the energy and felt there was a bit of awkwardness. I figured they were younger; I’ve found that younger guys are shyer and are not quite sure how to treat me on the court. This vibe slightly annoyed me, but I went along with it, as I have many times, in the name of playing basketball.
As they were getting warmed up, I kinda felt like an alien in a foreign country; their boyish jokes were non-stop and I was not in on their humour. Every time one of them got (or almost got) a 3-pointer in, there was a collective “Ooooh.”. Or if one of them tried a showy layup there was another “Oooh”, followed by giggles. I definitely wasn’t getting it, but figured that this humour wasn’t meant for me…it really had nothing to do with me.
After 20 minutes of shooting, I finally convinced them to start-up a game. Hat guy confessed he was a soccer player and that he didn’t know anything about basketball. I told him all he had to do was run and he’d be fine.
Picking teams was a slightly uncomfortable process: I felt like none of them wanted to play with me. As the game started I tried not to focus on my irritation, but instead on the court. It was Curly and me versus Tall Biker and Hatter. Curly was good, with his fast moves and fairly consistent layups. I played closer to the rim (as I’m used to), and got a couple in by doing a mini fake and waiting for both Tall Biker and Hatter to finish their defensive swats over me. Then I’d go up and score. We ended up winning 7 to 2 and Curly seemed pretty impressed with me.
Throughout the game there was still much awkwardness and more than a couple of times I felt like I was being watched carefully. Especially after Hatter scored on me: they all turned to me, to see my reaction.
A couple of minutes into our second game, it started to lightly drizzle, layering the court with a slippery surface. There were a couple of small slips, until Tall Biker ended up falling flatly on his face during a layup. The game ended after that.
As I was packing my stuff, Curly came over to me and complimented me on my skills.
I said thanks, but expressed my frustration at being treated differently.
“But, the men’s sport is different. I’ve seen women playing and you can’t even compare-”
“How much do you weigh?” I interrupted him.
He looked ahead, probably slightly intimidated by the confrontation, as we both walked toward the other two.
I continued: “I’m pretty sure I weigh more than you, and might even be stronger than you. If you are comparing physical differences, there are many strong women out there. Of course, there are differences in current high levels of women’s and men’s basketball, but maybe it is because women haven’t been playing as long as men. And isn’t the most important what you understand of the game? What is in your mind?”
We had reached the other two, and they were both staring wide-eyed at me. I saw that Tall Biker had pulled up one of his pant legs to reveal a red gash on the outside of his knee.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, it hurts, but I guess this is part of training,” he chuckled, his eyes smiling.
I smiled back and turned to Curly.
“All I know is that I love this game and these differences aren’t enough for me to stop from playing with guys.”
On the walk home, I decided that maybe I shouldn’t have started this conversation with Curly. First, I’m pretty sure I was the first girl they played basketball with so of course they were going to feel strange. Second, I know that most women don’t even want to play with men. I am one of the few that find it interesting. And debating with him was not necessary for spreading awareness.
I reminded myself to pick my battles (my debates) carefully. Generating a little patience for these guys lifted my frustration as I walked along Nazca toward Rodo’s (my cousin) house with some warm empanadas in tow.
What do you think about men and women playing sports together? This is the central theme of my blog so it will come up again and again. I am interested in hearing what others think about this concept. Impossible? Or just unimaginable because it has never been done up until now?