Saturday, May 2, 2009

Shirts and Skins

I was watching a pick-up basketball game while doing my push-ups at the gym. 6 guys in their 20's, none of them particularly buff, all wearing shirts. So, I wondered, how do they know who their teammates are? Quickly recognizing the color of your side's jersey, looking for shirts or skins, these are pieces of information which I've always imagined to be critical while playing a team sport. Hmmmm.

I was doing 4 sets of 15, so there was lots of time to watch. And as I watched, I realized that they didn't need to recognize their teammates. They weren't passing. They weren't playing defense, except against the ball. It was run-and-gun, look-at-me shooting. Not basketball.

I've followed college basketball since the 1970's - it was either learn it or lose TBG to the NCAA for the semester. I came to love the flow and the pulse of the game. There were only 5 players to keep track of and I knew them not only by number but by their faces and their physiques and their styles. There weren't hordes of men in helmets hurtling their bodies at one another like in football. This was dancing, but in shorts with a ball. And when I think back to those days I don't remember specific players. I remember teams - Phi Slamma Jamma, NC State, UCLA (forever and ever and ever). I knew some players, of course. All the DePaul kids (we lived in the neighborhood, after all) had their individual personalities on display, but my memories are of them as a team, filling the holes in each other's games and getting to the Elite 8 with good players but no real superstar.

The era of celebrity in sports has been hashed to death, so I'll not say more than that watching Kobe and Shaq and LeBron and Carmelo and SportsCenter's Top 10 is the reason there could be 6 strangers playing basketball, all in shirts of different colors and nobody caring. It wasn't shirts and skins. It was a free throw contest with bodies on the court.

And for all their hooting and hollering as basket after basket plunked into the net, I'd have been more impressed if one of them had boxed out.


"He eyes it.... he tries it..... he buys it!"

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