Eye of the Tyler: Let’s play a game of pick-up chessball

  • Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Stereotypically speaking, chess players and basketball players don’t co-exist.

A basketball player rarely says he/she can’t make it out to a pick-up game because of a prior commitment to a chess match.

And, someone who enjoys playing chess – although I’m inferring here – probably won’t decline a match invitation to shoot some hoops.

But, psychologically, engaging in a pick-up basketball game is a lot like playing chess. Sure, the amount of calories expended are exponentially different and chess enthusiasts don’t need to worry about rolling an ankle. Hear me out, though.

This past Thursday, I joined a group of guys for some pick-up basketball. Before we go any farther, let’s make sure everyone knows what the term “pick-up basketball” means.

It refers to a couple aspects. The first means there’s a bit of spontaneity involved. People, often strangers on the same court at the same time, literally decide to pick up a basketball, pick teams and play a game or series of games.

Or, it can be pre-planned – as my Thursday adventure was – and players decide on teams just before starting. So, there’s two “pick” references here: spontaneously picking up a basketball and playing, and methodically picking teams.

Got it? Good. Moving on.

I showed up to find that I recognized no one. That’s not really a shocker, though, since I haven’t lived in the Lowcountry that long.

So, instead of walking in and immediately drawing responses like, “Ooh, I want that guy on my team,” or “Why didn’t someone tell him a wrong time?” I had to prove myself as worthy of clamor.

I was by far the youngest person there. It wasn’t played at a senior center or anything like that, but I’m assuming several have children. I just graduated from college, so my pride and joy exists in a puppy, not someone for whom I have to save money for college.

As I stretched on the sideline, I made a mental note that my advantage was probably to run a lot. In high school, I wasn’t the quickest player on the court, so my minutes came from being able to knock down shots from the perimeter. Today, I thought while stretching a hamstring, I can have an all-around game.

Everyone there had similar heights, so there was no point in trying to exaggerate a low-post game by trying to shoot over the top of opponents by the basket.

Undoubtedly, there would be at least one guy who relives his high school or college glory days and won’t let a young guy come in and steal the show. I could expect a hard foul at some point, especially if I started playing well.

Then, I thought about the personal adjustments I needed to make. I hadn’t played a full-court pick-up game in a while, so there was no doubt I would be out of shape. And, that meant my shooting might be a little rusty too. I planned to attack whoever was defending me and try to get to the rim for closer opportunities.

I stopped myself. Don’t be Kobe Bryant, I thought. When this is over, I’d like to be welcomed back next week. I knew I had to be aggressive, because I was competitive, but I had to look for my teammates too. There couldn’t be any off-balance jumpshots at the beginning of my camaraderie with them while a wide-open teammate called for the ball.

There’s the chess in pick-up basketball. Players run through all those scenarios in their heads in a matter of seconds, gauging what move to make next. During a game played to 11, the team that gets to 10 can call “check.”

Not literally, though. Don’t do that; you’ll get strange looks.

That team has the other squad on the brink of checkmate, but it took many mental offensive and defensive moves to get to that position.

Does that make a basketball player more capable of playing chess, or a chess enthusiast more capable of playing basketball?

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