It’s a breezy Sunday afternoon on the basketball courts of Valle Verde 5 and the familiar sound of the ball bouncing on the parquet floor reverberates in the surrounding areas of the park. Inside the grounds, the court is littered with men in sneakers and basketball jerseys. On one bench, one player is doing his stretching. On the other bench, another one is lacing up his sneakers. On the other end of the court, two players take turns hoisting up 30 foot three-pointers. In the distance, another two are engaging in NBA small-talk.For a passerby, the scene may seem like an ordinary Sunday afternoon ballgame. But for a basketball soul, it’s a completely different atmosphere. The sight is the prelude before the battle; the calm before the storm.
And just as dusk dissipates and the last remaining fragments of light exits the horizon; as if on cue, the warm ups, stretching and small talk concludes.
The lights are on. It’s game time.
The rules are simple: A 1-2 point scoring system and the first team to 24 points wins. If the players aren’t too winded, the “main event” game, as some would like to call it, runs up to 30.
The players have no audience, no cheering sections, and certainly no fans. Not that they’d wish for any, after all, its one thing to play a 5-on-5 pick up game, it’s another thing to have onlookers scrutinizing their every move and waiting for the opportune time to make fun of their game, or lack thereof in some cases. Apart from the security guards who make the usual rounds and the churchgoers who pass by the courts before and after hearing mass from the nearby chapel, the area is desolate of any witnesses.
The initial game is fast-paced; played at an almost frantic tempo. The thought of playing defense is quickly lost in favor of fancy no-look bounce passes, acrobatic lay-ups, and the almost too predictable parade of three-pointers. It’s easy to excuse the rash of “ballhog-itis” since a week’s worth of pent up frustrations are poured out in the first few possessions of the game. Pretty soon, the game slows down and the highlight (or lowlight, whichever you prefer) plays are replaced by pick-and-roll’s and half court sets. As the score picks up, the game also takes a more intense tone. Bumps are harder, the defense tightens up, and fouls (both phantom and legitimate) are called more often. This was, after all, still basketball, and the competitive juices of each player still dripped down their skins all the while making permanent residence on the parquet floor. Nobody came here to lose.
As the fallout from battle proves time and time again, there always will be a victor and a vanquished. But in the spirit of camaraderie, the losers are quick to congratulate the winners on a hard fought game. High-fives are exchanged and the players laugh over the botched lay-ups and the behind-the-back dribbles gone haywire. As soon as the pleasantries are finished, everyone slumps down in their benches, chugs down their water, and unwinds for a few minutes. Pretty soon, the next game will begin and at this point, the players need all the rest they can get.
Predictably, succeeding games take longer as the legs grow heavier with every sprint down the court. In the process, wide open `gimmes’ are missed and shots become flat. The players, once full of bounce and energy, have been reduced to huffing and puffing shells of their former selves. But fatigue is never an excuse. The game continues and the competitive streaks re-emerge. The final game is usually the most intense. Everyone wants to leave their mark on the evening. If there was a fitting time to bring the `A-game’, this was the time to do it. The fancy plays that were so widespread only a few hours ago are gone. The game has turned into a rugged half-court affair. Plays are called louder, mistakes are magnified, and good shots are greeted with body bumps and high-fives. As the ball swishes through the net a final time, the collective shouts of elation and dejection pierces through what is now a starry Sunday night. At last, the games are over.
After three hours and four games, everyone is prepared to pack it in. The exhausted players take a few more minutes to relax and catch their wind. Everyone was drained. But it wasn’t the kind of burnt-out exhaustion the workplace brings about, it was fatigue borne out of playing too much basketball. It was tiring, but at the end of the day, it was all worth it.
Finally, the lights are turned off and the final high-fives and knuckle-knocks are exchanged. Everyone calls it a night and heads to their cars to go back to the comforts of their own home. For the first time the whole day, the mood was somber, maybe even a little too quiet for comfort. Looking at everyone, it wasn’t hard to figure out why. Nobody needed to say it; no words had to be exchanged. It was obvious what everyone was looking forward to.
The day the lights are turned on – and the games begin anew.
3 replies on “Sunday Night Lights”
enjoyed the article… It was a nice read. I miss the Sunday afternoon pickup games (we never had lights anywhere unfortunately)we would play as kids. What was always funny to me is you would want to punch your buddy in the face for a hard foul, but it was always no hard feelings afterward. I also chucked up many “twos” as well. They would swish perfectly or airball off the trash can ten feet behind the hoop.
Thank you It’s also funny to think that when the scores are tied at 22, everybody suddenly forgets the notion of taking it to the hole and suddeny hoists up “twos” as if their lives depended on it.
I guess everybody just wants to be the hero who won the game for the team, right?
Thank you for taking time out to comment, RJ. It’s vey much appreciated.
Good stuff… Also interesting to hear what other people at other courts play to… you say games go to 24, with the opening game going to 30.
When I lived in Arizona we always played to 15, and now that I’ve moved back to Bellingham (WA) most games go to 11, while some are actually to 7.