Not sure how many of you have read "the pickup diaries" @ basketbawful.com, but I thought I would share a story with you that related to that particular blog; But first you have to know a little bit about me. i grew up in portland, oregon as a die-hard blazers fan. I myself was not naturally gifted as others, but thru hard work and my athletic ability was able to compensate for my height of 5'7". Despite always being the shortest on the floor, after playing at a few gyms consistently and at school i would usually get picked first. my strengths were 3pt shooting, speed and ability to read the floor (which sucks in pickup because everyone freaking stands around). and yes, i have committed my share share of "heat check" shots and cardinal sin of jacking up shot from 5 feet behind the 3pt line instead of passing. haha.
Anyway, this is where my story is going. My roommate actually plays in the NBA (just got picked up by the HEAT).
So last summer, I ran his basketball camps in several different cities and country's in association with him. it has always been a passion of mine, playing bball and helping kids (I currently work in healthcare). why not do both?! Well this summer, instead of running bball camps, partying in different cities during the off-season and joining local summer leagues wherever we were, i decided to volunteer my time in Port Au Prince, Haiti at a hospital that was devastated by the earthquake. I ended up being there for 2 months total.
The first thing I would do in any city is scout out local courts and gyms. I could tell you the best places to play in miami, raleigh and portland. I hope by now you can guess who my roommate is. Well coming down to haiti was no different. I set out, in a country dominated by football (soccer). I was able to find 4 courts. I have played them all. despite everything you read on the news about haiti, very few from the USA come down to the rough neighborhoods. Currently in our organization i have 1 other american. so no one plays basketball. its me and whomever i can find. So i started a sunday morning league. we have to play at 6am because of the heat and humidity (heat index avg's about 110). it started out with 4 of us, including me, once i brought out a ball. now we have up to 18 each session (in fact a local elementary school heard about me and sent a rep to ask if i would do a 2 day camp, of course which i said yes!)....
So today, my normal crew got challenged at "our court". A group of 4 guys came and wanted to play 4 on 4 half court. so before I dialogue this any further I have to give you the particulars of pickup ball in haiti;
1) the score - i have no idea how to score here. I just keep playing til they say "game over". it somehow gets into the 30's and i have tried on numerous occasions to figure out which alga-rhythm they have implemented down here.
2) the court and hoop - are outside on very slick concrete surfaces next to the ocean where breezes honestly can affect your shot. you know how sometimes someone will complain (jokingly usually) that someone opened a door in the gym?
3) language - is a huge barrier because sometimes i have a hard time figuring out why there is a stoppage of play. rarely someone speaks a little english, which helps, but most times not.
4) rebounding - most pickup games require players to pass the ball outside the 3pt line when getting a defensive rebound. in haiti, you take it out pass the KEY. Which, as you can imagine, makes for some quick transition points.
5) "and-1" - so in the USA, when you get fouled and you make it, usually its not a big deal. you get the points, usually the ball (if playing make it, take it) and there is no complaining. Down here, we stop on EVERY "and-1" call and discuss it for 2 minutes. usually a good chance to get water for me.
It was obvious from the beginning these "kids (prolly 21-26) had heard i was down here and they wanted to test me. the nice thing about haiti, all courts have the exact same rules. so as soon as your learn them, you are good to go wherever you play, which is different in the US. a lot of gyms have "house rules" or little quirks in the system. well these kids didn't come alone. they brought a cheering squad. So, not wanting to let them down, I grabbed 3 of our guys and said lets do it. it was physical from the beginning. elbows to the chin, pushed in the back, and slapping. when we started taking the lead a new tactic came out. foul calling. in that game we had 14 stoppage of play, 13 of them returning the ball to the opposing team. what the calls where i had no idea. i couldn't breathe on them without getting the whole group to stop and start over. now, i am a competitive person like you and i wanted to win. I didn't want to lose this game for anything. so, i started adapting to their style, by playing 1ft off the offensive player. by doing this, my teammates were able to sneak in and steal and / or leave the poor shooters open and create some mismatches. what was great, being the only white person, was having some of their own crowd cheer and holler when i did something fancy or made a shot and you could tell they were rubbing it in to the opposing team. It was great. We ended up winning.
well this wasn't good enough for their leader (who by the way wore a shaq jersey). so he wanted to challenge me to 1 on 1. well, being from portland mostly i am not used to 110 heat index at 7am in the morning. so i said how about a game of horse first since he was the proclaimed "best shooter" on the opposing team. i killed him H-O-R-S-E-E (disagreement about a missed shot, adds the extra E) to nothing. even though i had played 2 games of 4 on 4 before him, then his game and now horse, he still wanted to play. Being i had just embarrassed him at horse, i caved in and agreed.
It was actually surprisingly clean and i could tell he started to respect me, as opposed to when he first came in when his whole mission was to outmuscle and clown me. i went up 5-1 and he came back and beat me 7-6 (i was so tired i was not going to play win by 2). afterwards, he came over and hugged me and was able to say "most fun all day"..... i was glad that we could end in friendship and have mutual respect for each other, despite not being able to communicate without some sort of rude first century sign language and motions.
anyway, sorry this is so long. Basketball has just given me an escape from the realities down here and the day-to-day routine at the hospital / shelter building camp.
It has been nice to have something like basketball that can pull people together, no matter where you are!