Saturday, November 21, 2009
The Jim Marshall of pickup basketball
This is New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson draining a 3-pointer against the Nets on Saturday. Unfortunately, he shot it at the wrong basket. Fortunately, the shot came just after the buzzer sounded and didn't count.
That didn't stop Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni from berating the occasionally confused and confusing Robinson, who acted defensively, as if it's perfectly normal for a player to turn and fire a shot into his opponent's hoop, and why in the hell is the coach so upset? Now, Robinson did it while goofing off, thinking - correctly, it turned out - that the shot came after the buzzer. But he cut it close, nearly giving the horrid Nets three points.
During one of our pickup games this past Wednesday, one of the guys didn't get so lucky. At the start of the game, the other team had possession. They passed it around a few times. Someone missed a shot. One of their players - who had already touched the ball on that possession so obviously knew which basket was his - snared the offensive board. Instead of going up for a shot, he took off on a full sprint to the other end of the court, looking like Magic Johnson in his prime. Everyone else watched in stunned silence. Where's he going? Head down with a hip-high dribble, he drove the length of the court and finished the play off with his best-looking layup of the night.
Into the wrong basket. For the wrong team.
Only when he began running up the court did he realize what had happened. One of his teammates said he thought about blocking his shot but was too surprised to act. Everyone else just laughed, perhaps more confused than the poor shooter. I've seen guys shoot into the wrong basket. But that's usually when they're on the defensive boards and go up with a shot after grabbing the ball. I've never seen - nor has anyone since Naismith started his old game - a player grab an offensive rebound, sprint to the other end, and lay it in for two points for the opposition.
It's like he had a bet on the game and wanted to assure a quick start for our club, only this would be the most obvious point-shaving in the history of gambling scandals. A debate ensued. Did we get the points? Or, should we retroactively call over-and-back, since technically he did commit a violation by crossing center court. Our league commissioner ruled: the basket counted, for us.
Perhaps because we were still processing what had happened, we never got into the flow of the game. We lost 7-3, although we only accounted for two of those points.
The most soul-crushing time I saw such a play happen came in high school. During a B-squad game, on Parents Night, a kid who rarely got to play entered late in the game. With his proud folks looking on, Mike grabbed a defensive board, getting his name into the scorebook. Instead of looking for an outlet pass, though, he immediately went up for the shot. And scored his only two points of the night with a nice use of the backboard. Might have been his only two points of the season. The crowd laughed, half mocking him, half pitying him. His dad probably ridiculed Mike later that night, and his mom probably congratulated him on "hitting a hoop." Moms can always see the positive in any situation. Except, perhaps, for a full-length drive to the wrong basket.