The Importance of Streetball

27 Jun 2016
The Importance of Streetball

In the last few years the notion that playground basketball is dying has gained some steam. ESPN even published a lengthy article about streetball’s demise. In reality, though, it depends on who you ask.

Two summers ago I heard that Nike was hosting an open run at a court downtown, right at the intersection of Chrystie Street and Houston. There had been signups online to play and all the spots were filled, but Nike was also accepting 15 “walk-ups.” I told my friends about the event and they laughed me off; there was no way I’d get picked up with every baller in the five boroughs vying for those last few positions. But I had nothing to do that Saturday morning, and I’d never played at those courts before, so I figured I would head down two hours before the event and see if I could sneak in.

When I got to the playground the courts were barren. But, after waiting 30 minutes, some players started gathering and I was asked if I wanted to go full-court, five-on-five. Nike representatives weren’t there yet, but I figured playing a couple games would provide a good warm up.

After playing for an hour and half, someone that had been hired to run the event informed us that Nike had moved the games uptown, to Chelsea Piers. Two of the guys I had played with announced they were going to go, and I asked if I could tag along. One of them nodded and we headed to the train. As we travelled uptown, I learned a bit about them. One’s name was Cornell and the other’s name was Tony. Cornell was from Queens and was attending school at Queens College. He had tried out for the basketball team but the coach had told him that he already carried too many point guards. College basketball¬†was likely out of the picture, but he loved the game so he so he played a lot anyways.

Tony appeared to be in his mid-twenties. He came from Brooklyn and had two daughters, one a year old and the other six months old. Tony had a peculiar, hitched jump shot that was uncomfortable to watch, but he had a knack for putting the ball in the basket. He played all around the city in different tournaments and was hoping Nike would choose him to play in its “Summer Is Serious” game in Spain (the point of the event was to find the best streetballers in the city). It seemed like he was trying to play basketball professionally but that the opportunity hadn’t arisen yet.

We got to Chelsea Piers and luckily were told that we could all play in the open run. Two other players were placed on our team, and soon we were matched up with another team, composed mostly of professional athletes. While our team ultimately didn’t do very well–we won two games and lost four–it was certainly a fun experience. Nike had hooked us up with jerseys, shorts, and food, and we got to play competitive basketball for three hours straight (five if you include our time at Chrystie Street). Over this time I got to know Tony and Cornell more, and when we parted ways at the end of the day, we vowed to play with each other again in the future.

While pickup basketball culture might be different than it was in the past, it still provides tremendous social value because it brings together people of different races, socio-economic statuses, and upbringings. Tony, Cornell and I lead vastly differently lives, but playing streetball brought us together for a brief moment. No other kind of gathering I can think of connects people from opposite sides of a city, the same age but one in college and the other a father of two. For many people, like Cornell, Tony, and me, streetball is nowhere near dead. And, as a powerful social tool in our society, it’s imperative that it continues to thrive.

Written by  Sam Gordon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *