TROUTMAN: A declaration of pickup basketball


I have nothing against apple pie or the Fourth of July parade, and my favorite sport is baseball. Yet, I write in praise of another sporting event that likewise takes place across our country this summer holiday — the pickup basketball game.

While not everyone has been endowed by their creator with the same gifts of vertical leap and wingspan, each player has the unalienable right to pursue life, liberty, and the basket, whether the hoop in question is hung over a garage or affixed to a metal pole in a public park.

In pickup, there are no referees or outside authorities. Players call their own fouls and consent to be governed by the same rules of sport. A decent respect for the opinions of others requires discretion and restraint in evoking infractions and violations. One hopes that, in the absence of a long train of abuses and usurpations, you would stop whining that you were fouled and play on.

Moreover, the bands that connect players on a team are subject to change through the peaceful passage of power from game to game, meaning that a trash-talking opponent might end up as your teammate in the near future, a fact worth considering before you tax someone’s bodily autonomy with an elbow.

Whereas much of the action of these pickup games shall dissolve in the muscles and evaporate like the sweat of the participants, there are events in the course of competition that yield a moment so exceptional that it shall henceforth be recorded in the lore of your buddies, whose stories, like legal documents, tend to grow bigger over time.

For instance, though history evinces the folly of pride that causes a player to launch a shot of surpassing distance over the outstretched hand of a larger opponent, as such a vain heave frequently results in an inglorious air ball to affect good-natured ribbing among friend and foe alike, every so often the shot passes cleanly through the hoop, prompting much celebration, though generally not with fireworks.

Over time, stories tend to grow not only bigger but also more colorful. It is self-evident that, by reliving the past, we often sanctify it. On the sidelines, either perching on the front porch steps or leaning against chain-link fences, are younger generations, who watch and wait for their turn, their fingers itching for the ball. Their time will come.

Always in pickup, someone calls, “Next!” The game continues and is passed on, which, by the laws of nature and of nature's God, may also be true for the great American experiment in democracy begun so long ago.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church as well as a writer, pizza maker, coffee drinker and student of joy.