"The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps." -Marsellus Wallace, Pulp Fiction

Generally speaking, men have a lot of pride. Maybe even too much pride. But that's not our fault, is it, guys? Of course not. Pride is hard-coded into our DNA, right next to "farts are funny" and "Look! Boobies!" If it hadn't been, cave men would have spent their short lives cowering in a cave instead of venturing boldly forth to get squashed by wooly mammoths or eaten by sabertooth tigers.

But pride often backfires because it prevents men from recognizing their limitations. Why else do you think Evel Knievel spent 79 percent of his adult life being fed by an intravenous drip from the comfort of his full body cast? Because that stubborn bastard never figured out it was impossible to jump his motorcycle over 10 cars, three school buses and the Grand Canyon at the same time. Then again, his idiocy gave us that classic Happy Days episode where Fonzie water-skied over a shark. So I guess everything worked out okay.

Pickup ballers are as prideful as anybody. They'd have to be to attempt some of the dumbass shots I've seen (and tried) over my pickup career. Forget trick shots -- behind the backboard, halfcourt, fullcourt, etc. -- players regularly take ridiculous shots during actual games. Three-pointers from several feet behind the arc, double-clutch reverse layups, off-balance jumpers that are chucked up after a wild spin move while fading away...I could describe a hundred insane shots. Maybe a thousand.

Why do they happen? It's not because these people are retarded, even if their shot selection screams "special needs." It's because there's a tiny voice inside every man saying: You can do this. You can hit that shot.

Pride is most evident in good players because they're the ones who have the ball most of the time. Their mistakes are magnified. But it's not just the pickup league superstars. The pickup scrubs can be just as prideful. Take my buddy Paul for example. He has what you'd call "limited basketball skills." He's tall and does a decent job on the boards, but his every layup attempt is an adventure in the same way taking a bath in a tub full of live sewer rats would be an adventure. Poor Paul is our league's unofficial all-time leader in airballed layups.

The sad thing is, 90 percent of his layups are so wide open he could leave the gym, drive to another gym, spend an hour ot two practicing layups, drive back to the first gym and then take his shot before the defense recovers. And he still misses. Some of his problem is mental -- he wigs out because he misses so many layups, which usually results in another botched layup -- and the rest of the problem is that his arms work like unbending plastic rods.

A year or so ago, Paul joined my gym and asked if we could practice together. When we met up, he asked me quite sincerely if there was anything he could do to improve his game. I told him to practice layups. He snorted. I told him I was serious. He laughed. I told him, no, I was really serious. Now he choked out a nervous laugh.

"Layups?" he asked. "You aren't kidding around?"

"Paul," I said, "what's your biggest problem on a nightly basis?"

"Missing layups," he said.

"So...?" I asked.

"I'm not practicing layups."

And that was that. The idea of practicing layups was too embarrassing for him. Considering how many offensive rebounds he pulls down (because nobody blocks him out) and how many wide open layups he gets (because nobody guards him), I'm telling you: Paul could become a real force in our pickup league because the effort and hustle are there. But he doesn't want to lower himself to practicing the "easiest" shot in the game.

Here's another example. There's a guy named Keith in our pickup league. Keith played Division I ball for a major NCAA school. He is very fucking good. He is a legitimate pickup league superstar. One night last session, he got hot from downtown. I mean really hot. His defender kept pushing him further and further out, and he just kept shooting. By the end, he was chucking 'em up from halfcourt...and hitting them. There wasn't a damn thing anybody could do to stop him.

That's Keith.

When he pulls down a rebound, I half-wonder if the ball is going to explode between his Hulk-like hands. When he drives to the basket, people duck out of his way. Everything Keith does is impressive. Well, everything except playing defense. Don't get me wrong. His D is great when he's motivated to play it. It's just that he usually isn't motivated. Especially when he's guarding a perimeter player who moves a lot without the ball. When that happens, Keith just sort of sags off his man and concedes open jump shots.

There was a game last Spring where Keith was guarding my buddy Brent, who is a streaky three-point shooter. Brent hustles for his shots, and Keith clearly didn't want to chase him around the arc. As a result, Brent got open three after open three, and he was knocking most of them down. I was on Keith's team, and it was driving me nuts.

After we lost our second game because of Brent's three-point shooting, I went up to Keith and said, "Hey, you want me to take him?" I figured Keith would be happy to switch over to my man, who wasn't contributing much offensively. But my asking sparked Keith's pride. "Nah, man, I got this," he said.

But he didn't have it. And Brent kept getting -- and making -- open shots. The only thing that really changed was that our team won. So afterwards Keith came up and said, "See? I told you I had it."

Pride can manifest in all sorts of crazy ways. One time this player we called Backward Hat Guy was checking the ball in at the top of the key. Evil Ted was guarding him, so BHG handed the ball to ET. For whatever reason, ET turned around to make sure everybody was in position, then bounced the ball between his legs to BHG before turning back to face him. BHG took this as a pretty serious insult and demanded an immediate recheck from a confused ET.

Speaking of ET, there was a game last session where ET had the oddest mini tantrum I have ever witnessed in pickup ball. ET and I were on opposite teams. My team ended up a little stacked, and we were clobbering ET's team. It was one of those blowout situations where the winning team basically stops playing defense. A guy name Bruno, who isn't exactly a crack defender to begin with, was guarding ET. Well, in theory. In reality, he wasn't even within 10 feet of ET on most possessions, so ET was getting all sorts of uncontested jumpers. Finally, ET posted up and hit a hook shot over Bruno, who was standing there, hands at his sides, not even looking at ET.

Before his shot had even cleared the net, ET screamed, "Fucking guard me, Bruno!" That was the first and only time I have ever seen a pickup baller get pissed off because somebody wasn't guarding him.

Pride.

You know what really pokes pickup ballers in their pride gland? Female players. When a guy plays against a girl, his pride will take things in one of two directions. Either he will act like he's playing against a 5-year-old -- not trying to score against her on offense, letting her do whatever she wants on defense -- or he will become ridiculously overaggressive, charging over her on drives, trying to swat every shot she takes, etc.

One time, Backward Hat Guy (whom we've already established is kind of an asshole) was guarding this girl named Tanya. He was all over her on defense, constantly trying to swipe at or steal the ball from her. This culminated in a moment where, while guarding her from behind, he reached around and made a two-handed grab at the ball...and got two handfuls of breast instead. Everybody just stopped and looked at him. It was hilarious. And he backed off a little after that.

Pride will also keep players from trying hard, because if they slack and fail, it's because they weren't really trying. It's much more humiliating to try hard and fail anyway. Pride will prevent good players from making an honest effort against bad players. It will cause people to start fights over stupid things, or call phantom fouls, or complain about the quality of their teammates, or refuse to admit when they've committed a traveling violation, so on and so fourth.

Like Mr. Wallace said, pride only hurts, it never helps.

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23 Comments:
Blogger Will said...
6 months from now, when you're kickin' it in the Caribbean, just say to yourself, "Matt McHale: Technical Writer was right."

Blogger Dan B. said...
Alright, good story, but you never answered the question on everyone's mind: what does Marsellus Wallace look like??

Blogger AnacondaHL said...
The Seven Deadly Pickup Sins: Lust - see: Michael Jordan, hot dogs

Blogger Sorbo said...
Poor BHG. I hate guarding women, too. Whenever I hand-check one off the ball, I feel like some creepy perve copping a feel. In fact, I pulled the same thing as BHG. I poked at a ball then accidently hit boob instead. It's weird, part of me wants to apologize, but I don't, because I wouldn't apologize to a guy. Not sure if that's pride or just a social behavior thing.

Anonymous JJ said...
I'm surprised you thought Keith would be happy to switch. Maybe it depends on how you say it, but I think "Hey, you want me to take him?" is one of the biggest ego challenges you can say to someone in a pick up game. Unless there's a good reason (like huge height difference), it basically means "Hey, you suck. Let me get him." Even guys who are not interested in defense will usually get motivated by that (or at least they'll say no to save their face but then continue on as before a la Keith).

Speaking of pride, I hate it when guys get all upset and just stand there pouting because they missed an easy shot. I mean, yeah, you should be upset that you blew it. But, it's not like you're Michael Jordan in Game #7 and just missed the game winning shot! Everyone misses, and you're probably not that awesome to begin with!

Meanwhile, the ball may rebound their way or everybody else might be running back the other way. But, they completely take themselves out for a minute or two (which is like an eternity during a basketball game) before finally realizing, "Oh, we're still playing. The world didn't end." It drives me crazy whenever I see that.

Blogger Leland said...
DAP to Bawful for his post on Coaching Moves in the offseason on ESPN's NBA site. Great article and analysis!

Blogger senormedia said...
When I worked at a TV station I played on the charity/exhibition/traveling promotion team, which sometimes was of mixed gender and which often played teams of slightly-mixed gender.

After I ran over a girl on the other team in pursuit of a loose ball (and was called for the obvious foul) I reached down to give her a hand up and then gave her the ol' butt slap.
It was as if time itself stopped.

I believe that might have been the last time that I gave the ol' butt slap to anyone.

Blogger Drake said...
Sorbo:

Apologize only if you get a boner and she (or everyone else) sees it. Otherwise, don't (unless you really are a creepy perv trying to feel her up during "incidental contact). A female player should know what she's getting into when she's playing in predominantly male pickup games.

Blogger Wormboy said...
Nice call on pride. LeBron agrees that pride can be a problem:
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/08/17/sports/basketball/AP-BKN-LeBron-GQ-Interview.html?ref=basketball

Now officially the NBA's premier princess: Gilbert didn't care about me. Tell it to TMZ, LeBron.

Anonymous No Ring King said...
Uh, I don't know. Butch ignored that advice and stuck with pride.

Marcellus got stuck by Zed.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
6 months from now, when you're kickin' it in the Caribbean, just say to yourself, "Matt McHale: Technical Writer was right."

That's what I was thinkin'...

Alright, good story, but you never answered the question on everyone's mind: what does Marsellus Wallace look like??

He doesn't look like a bitch, I can tell you that much.

The Seven Deadly Pickup Sins: Lust - see: Michael Jordan, hot dogs

[nods]

Poor BHG. I hate guarding women, too. Whenever I hand-check one off the ball, I feel like some creepy perve copping a feel. In fact, I pulled the same thing as BHG. I poked at a ball then accidently hit boob instead. It's weird, part of me wants to apologize, but I don't, because I wouldn't apologize to a guy. Not sure if that's pride or just a social behavior thing.

Does anybody ever really "accidentally" hit a boob?

I'm surprised you thought Keith would be happy to switch. Maybe it depends on how you say it, but I think "Hey, you want me to take him?" is one of the biggest ego challenges you can say to someone in a pick up game. Unless there's a good reason (like huge height difference), it basically means "Hey, you suck. Let me get him." Even guys who are not interested in defense will usually get motivated by that (or at least they'll say no to save their face but then continue on as before a la Keith).

I know what you're saying. I figured it would fly because he requests defensive switches off of guys he doesn't want to chase around. Apparently this time he felt a slight sting...

Speaking of pride, I hate it when guys get all upset and just stand there pouting because they missed an easy shot. I mean, yeah, you should be upset that you blew it. But, it's not like you're Michael Jordan in Game #7 and just missed the game winning shot! Everyone misses, and you're probably not that awesome to begin with!

Totally. Backward Hat Guy screams "Goddamnit!!" every time he misses any shot. It's like the dude expects to hit 100 percent of his takes every game.

DAP to Bawful for his post on Coaching Moves in the offseason on ESPN's NBA site. Great article and analysis!

Thanks!

After I ran over a girl on the other team in pursuit of a loose ball (and was called for the obvious foul) I reached down to give her a hand up and then gave her the ol' butt slap.
It was as if time itself stopped.


See? Guys just can't play with girls without hitting boob and slapping ass. It's just our way.

Now officially the NBA's premier princess: Gilbert didn't care about me. Tell it to TMZ, LeBron.

Honestly, 'Bron needs to have "Bitch" inked across his back to replace that Chosen One tat.

Blogger Sorbo said...
Apologize only if you get a boner and she (or everyone else) sees it.

Few basketball chicks give me boners, too stalky for my tastes. I will say it's hard to play body-to-body defense without feeling like I'm rubbing my junk inappropriately all over the woman. Must be too much Catholic guilt in my upbringing.

Blogger AnacondaHL said...
...wait a second, I think I did this wrong...

The Seven Deadly Pickup Sins: Gluttony - see: Michael Jordan, hot dogs; Charles Barkley, Krispy Kreme, 5 buck box (it rocks it rocks)

Blogger AnacondaHL said...
......hang on...

The Seven Deadly Pickup Sins: Envy - see: Michael Jordan, hot dogs; Wilt Chamberlain, Manute Bol, "hot dog"

Anonymous Matt said...
Based on Knee-Mac's quote, I think we know who the reference is for Sloth...


I've only guarded a girl during a pickup game a couple of times (during a regular lunch game with a bunch of people from work). Of course, I'm only 5'4" and she was about 6', so if I was ever rubbing my junk inappropriately, it would have been against the back of her knees.

Yeah, I guess I didn't have to worry about that...

Blogger BadDave said...
I once played against a girl from the college women's team. As her dong was bigger than mine, I didn't even think about any of that stuff. She was fantastic in the post. I was able to give her trouble but she just hammered me when I had the ball.

My pride picked up some calluses that day.

Anonymous JJ said...
I think the whole boobs thing totally depends on how hot the girl is (although in my experience, 99% of girls who play basketball are butch and the other hot 1% are probably my imagination). Obviously, if the girl you're playing with is ugly and then it's easier to treat her as one of the guys. Even if you happen to touch/grab her boobs, it's more of an annoyance (like "what the hell are these doing here?) because in your mind "she" was a "guy". But, the samething happens with a girl who is smoking hot, then.... well, let me know where YOU play basketball. Thanks.

Blogger Will said...
I'm sure BHG was just trying to re-enact the famous Janet Jackson Rolling Stone cover. http://www.theboombox.com/2010/07/21/janet-jackson-discusses-her-nude-rolling-stone-cover/
Also, I didn't know Keith Smart was in your pickup league, Bawful.

Anonymous Heretic said...
I never had a problem playing against girls because due to their small size they tend to be jump shooters or perimeter players. Then one day I was guarding this tiny girl whose method of backing me down was to ram her ass into my crotch till I took steps back. My only defense was to keep my hands high up like I was being mugged and to look pleadingly at the other players while trying to telepathically tell them "This is not my fault!!!!"

Blogger DC said...
I was once at my college gym when 4 girls from the varsity bball team came in. I was guarding this 6'2'', 190 lbs girl. And she was good. Every time I gave her a yard, she hit a jumper. So I tightened up. Except she felt that my D was a little too tight, so the next time she got the ball she pivoted hard, swung her elbows real high and hit my square across my face. I told stopped the game to recover and told her she was a dirty player. To which she replied, "Oh shut up, you pussy."

EVERYONE in the gym was laughing at me. If she had been a guy, someone would have had to hold me back, but I can't do anything to a girl. Of course, she knew that, which is why she did what she did. It didn't matter that her team lost, or that I hit a couple jumpers in her face.

That's why I don't play with girls. You can't win. What's worse, if they escalate the physicality, you can't retaliate without looking bad.

Blogger K.A. said...
Count me in as disliking playing with girls. It just gets...confusing. Its only okay if the guy checking her is the worst guy on the court but is good humored. I'll maybe lay off for the 1st game to gauge how good she is but no way id let a girl beat me twice in a row. Yup, pride.

Blogger 80's NBA said...
RE: Keith not playing serious "D" on someone who had a hot hand...

I was in a situation like that once, but I didn't ask my lazy teammate to switch. I told him straight up that he better start playing some "d". When he basically shrugged me off, I decided to double-team on his man when that dude got the ball. That pissed off my non-defense-playing-superstar-in-his-own-mind teammate more than being scorched by the guy he was guarding.

P.S. When I played against a team that had a girl on it, I would always yell out "Shirts and skins...we'll be shirts!" Also, those games gave the phrase "take it to the hole" a whole new meaning.

Blogger Sid said...
A few days ago, playing 2 on 2 half court against a girl and a guy on both teams, while I was on defense, this girl kept putting screens on me and my man kept getting wide open lane for layups as the girl on my team couldn't keep up with him. All game long. Again and again. It feels real bad to be beat by the same play all game long. Guys set screen with hands in front, and her hands were behind her back in at-ease position as if daring me to touch her.

How the hell can you go by a girl screen without initiating contact? And when such contact initiated by a guy on a girl not inappropriate? There should be guidelines.

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