By: Daniel Reynolds
The clock was ticking down. We were behind by 1 point. I’m on the sidelines, watching. My team (the poetically named Intermediate Team 6B) had been looking for its first win. After an early lead, we had gotten lax and let the game slip away. We had one last chance to perhaps preserve our dignity. With 15 seconds left, our skilled forward took a huge fade away jumper from the right side of the court. Nothing but net. We were all tied up. 15 seconds later the buzzer sounded.
The game ended in a tie. Welcome to rec league basketball.
This may not be news to some of you but Toronto actually has a really vibrant recreational sports scene. The leader in this regard is the Toronto Sports and Social Club (very serious sounding name). I’ve been playing in basketball leagues organized by the TSSC for the past few years and it has usually been a rewarding and, um, interesting experience.
I’ve met an delightful cross section of people. There was the guy who joined my team despite not being able to dribble, shoot or pass; the 6’2’’ point guard who quit the team after he realized he’d probably have to play centre; and the spaced out bro who, I’m not entirely sure was playing in the same game I was. These are very different types than you’d meet on your typical playground. Out there, it’s a real dog-eat-dog world and you learn very quickly what you should (and should not) be doing on the court. In a recreational league (even one deemed ‘intermediate’ as mine is), well, everyone paid their money so if they want to take that 28 foot shot then dammit they are going to take that shot. From my experiences, here are the five types of pick-up basketball players you tend to find in the TSSC rec leagues:
1) The floor general – These are the kinds of guys who try (usually in vain) to get teammates moving together and passing the ball to the right spot. Basically, they’ve got the basketball IQ and vocal capacity to take control of the team (even if no one is actually listening). They’ll help on defense when they see a mismatch developing and try to make the right play. Naturally, this leadership role does not exempt them from some attempts at ‘hero ball’. Many good decisions usually end up being undone by some bad ones in the quest for glory (such as it is).
Best Case Scenario: the floor general is also a really talented player that can make the right decisions and have a positive leadership impact on the team.
Worst Case Scenario: his basketball skills lag behind his talking skills.
2) The hothead – There’s one on every team AND they are usually pretty talented players. The problem is, they believe they are playing in a much more serious game. Sometimes my heart goes out to them (usually after watching another pass bounce off some poor schlub’s hands) but other times you just have to wonder how they live their day-to-day.
Best Case Scenario: the burning fire that fuels this player is focused so successfully that your team benefits from an NBA Jam-like display of basketball prowess.
Worst Case Scenario: Regular fights, riots, potential homicide.
3) The unskilled – I realize that this is probably a pretty broad (and mean-spirited umbrella) category to define players by but it has to be said. I’m not talking about a weak shooter or someone who dribbles the ball off their foot under defensive pressure. I’m talking about the space cadets, those that appear to have a relationship with basketball akin to that of a house cat with molecular chemistry. This type of player comes in all shapes and sizes; the big man who can’t rebound, the little guy who is slow, and they always, always possess the absolute minimum of court sense. Oh, and much like Rounders taught us: if you can’t spot the unskilled player on the team by the first half time, then the unskilled player is you.
Best Case Scenario: Best to hope that this type of player is also really tall. It always helps if they are tall.
Worst Case Scenario: They show up for every game, with a smile on their face, ready to play.
4) The nice old man – What would rec leagues be without these guys? On every team, there is the old guy. He probably was once very good, maybe he even played in college or something. But now, decked out in two knee braces, hands slowing down, he rumbles up and down the court, his every step in agony. If you want a happy team, you need a nice old man around. If you want a winning team, well, you probably don’t. Also, beware of the dangerous hothead/nice old man combo. I once saw a crazed Serbian old man threaten a small Asian kid on the court. I had 9-1 dialed into my phone just in case.
Best Case Scenario: The team rallies around this guy and he is just wily enough to make smart plays.
Worst Case Scenario: He gets involved in some gruesome injury and the team feels terrible.
5) The quiet killer – You know that guy in action movies, usually like some psycho assassin type, who stands around in the background of scenes? Everyone is always remarking who is that guy? Why is everyone afraid of him? And then, things get crazy and he obliterates a room full of people. That is the quiet killer. It is impossible to know what is running through their minds, and just as soon as the season is done, like Keyser Soze, they disappear. You tell your friends about this guy you played with one time as if describing a ghost.
Best Case Scenario: This player wins you a few games and miraculously reappears on your team in the following rec league season.
Worst Case Scenario: With their disinterest visibly growing, the player makes some jaw-dropping plays, says little, and disappears. Never to be seen again.
By my estimate I’ve played on maybe ten or more TSSC rec league teams (some co-ed, some in men’s leagues) and I’ll be damned if these archetypes don’t pop up on every team playing in the expensive private schools and cramped elementary gymnasiums of the TSSC. Despite losing probably 70 percent of the games I’ve been involved in, there is something soul stirring about banding together with a gang of strangers and competing. And when it works, it is a beautiful feeling.
Even if the main prize is just a pat on the back and a T-shirt.