I’ve been shooting hoops by myself all my life, but if I go to LA Fitness or an outdoor basketball court, I’m bound to play with other people. Until very recently, I was horrible at that – until I realized a few important steps on how to hide your faults and play to your strengths.
On Saturday, I went to LA Fitness to play basketball while my mom did her weights and whatever her exercise regimen is. We went during the afternoon/early evening, which I hate, because that means other people will be around. I like to play by myself, which is less “playing” and more “shooting around and playing out imaginary scenarios where I emerge as the winner.”
No luck this time. A game was about to start and I legitimately wondered whether I should back out and go jump on an exercise bike or something. Instead, I figured I’d give it a shot. I regretted my decision almost immediately.
I got hit in the face with the ball thanks to an unlucky ricochet off the rim and I was rattled for the next few games. Turnovers came easily while my rare shot attempts clanked off the rim or even… missed everything.
My defense was floundering too and I was just in a really bad place. Of course, it didn’t help that I was playing as soon as I arrived. Usually, it takes me about thirty minutes to really get in a rhythm before I start nailing shots. When I’m by myself, of course. When I’m around others, I might never find a rhythm, and instead spend the night running around the court like an idiotic version of Ray Allen, looking like I’m accomplishing something, but really doing shit.
So yeah, during the first few games, I was horrible. The other guys on the court didn’t really say anything because we had that one guy who insists on always shooting (and missing), so I wasn’t actually the worst guy.
Then, everything changed.
Even now, as I’m writing this, I’m not sure what happened. Maybe I relaxed. Maybe I did find some kind of rhythm.
All I know is that I started playing well – really well. My shot was on point, I even hit some floaters, and my defense was pretty stout for a 5’6″ guy with glasses.
An hour passed, and everybody left. And as they left, they actually called me “Ray Allen” and they weren’t been sarcastic.
Now, before I write anything else, I want to say I’m not bragging. By all objective standards, I suck at team basketball. I never really learned how to play within a team concept and I’m most comfortable just messing around by myself. I’m not athletic, I have no vertical, and I have no wingspan.
In the words of Drake, “you know it’s real when you are who you think you are.”
In light of this breakout performance and epiphany, I thought I’d share some tips on how to just have some damn fun when you’re playing ball on a casual level.
Don’t worry about your legacy
I know that sounds silly, but it was partially intentional. What I meant was this: don’t worry about what other guys think of you. It’s casual for a reason; there are no real stakes here (unless you play in Rucker Park). Even if you play poorly, there’s a good chance someone else is playing just as bad, or will play just as bad the next game.
The biggest tip – by far – is just to relax and have some fun. Enjoy what you’re doing! If you’re lucky, like I was on Saturday, everybody will be having fun, engaging in friendly trash talk and encouraging each other when both good and bad things happen.
If you worry too much about what happens if you miss two shots, or blow an open layup (a much more common problem than you’d think), you’re going to stress out. Forget about all that – don’t worry what the hot girl might think if she glances over and you throw the ball right at a guy on the other team.
Really, who cares? Everybody makes mistakes, and a mistake in recreational basketball is nothing to lose sleep over.
Hone your shot
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a pretty sad excuse for an athlete, much less a basketball player. But I manage to (somewhat) thrive on the court thanks to my ability to hit threes consistently. On the court, pretty much everybody ends up chucking them up, so it’s in your best interest to be the specialist on your team.
Trust me, if I can make guys get in my grill because they’re afraid of giving me open looks, I know what I’m talking about. The best is when you’ve practiced your shot enough to be calm even when you’re shooting in traffic.
For whatever reason, that’s one thing I’m good at. And this is just a personal thing for me, but I always think of Ray Allen’s perpendicular-to-the-floor form when I rise up to shoot.
Hone your floater
Because I’m such a short guy, going into the paint can be a genuinely frightening experience. Paired with my dubious dribbling skills and you’ve got a guy who only runs through that area when he’s cutting. Fortunately, my obsession with Tony Parker’s floater made me develop my own, and it’s been getting heavy use in games.
In all honesty, it shouldn’t be all that difficult to get past your man, especially if you call for a screen, so once you penetrate, you just have to toss a floater up. Forget about layups; you’re not Dwyane Wade in his prime for crying out loud.
Keep things in perspective and be unselfish
This is kind of like the first suggestion. There’s also something of a contradiction here, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
When you keep things in perspective, it’s using other players’ poor performances as a way to bolster your own confidence. It gives you leeway to make mistakes, because you’re not doing as much damage as the other guys. It’s an odd method of thinking, but trust me, it totally works.
On Saturday, the callous gunslinger was on my team almost every time, and he had an annoying habit of chucking long threes for no reason. That told me to take some risks, which I did, including a startling Eurostep floater/hook that had people’s heads exploding in disbelief.
Having said that, you also have to be unselfish. Pass the ball a lot – ball movement is good technique but it also gives you opportunities to shoot more, as odd as that sounds. Or, to be more specific, you have more flexibility when you get the ball.
I’m a team player (even though I don’t know how to play in one very well), so I pass the ball as much as I can. On Saturday, there was a bit of an exception because I was playing the best hour of my entire life, but even then I shared the rock like a point guard.
You know, this is all a pretty extreme thing to do after just an hour of basketball. I just can’t help it though; I’m so hyped to play with other people now, I can’t wait to go back to LA Fitness.
Another cool thing is that there are a lot of familiar faces around if you go at the right time long enough, which means you end up building a sort of reputation. It gives me great joy to say I’m building the kind where guys can honestly give me a nickname that is also the name of one of the greatest shooters of all-time, and the owner of the most beautiful shot in the game.