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Eye of the Tyler: The top 5 unwritten rules of pick-up basketball

  • Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Editor's Note: This is part two of a series in which Tyler first discussed how pick-up basketball can be similar to chess.

Basketball players who favor pick-up games as opposed to referreed contests usually have that preference because of a lack of rules. There are no zebras blowing their whistles at every touch foul or preparing to cause turnovers for someone being in the post too long.

If a guy or gal wants to camp out in the lane, let 'em. Offensively, you should be able to take advantage of that.

But, even in the absence of a referee, there are plenty of unwritten rules in pick-up basketball. Some have everything to do with basketball and others have little. Let's break the five most important ones down.

5. If it has a name, don't wear it.

Wearing a LeBron James jersey with matching shorts, socks, shoes and a headband is unacceptable. There's never a place for that.

First off, if you wear anything to do with LeBron James, I'll likely call you for traveling violations left and right and periodically check beneath your headband for a receding hairline.

What is acceptable clothing? Pick a T-shirt and athletic shorts that don't have any person's name on them. Have your old high school jersey with your last name printed on the back? Doesn't matter.

Stop living in the glory days and be normal.

LeBron wouldn't bring his own jersey and shorts to a pick-up game, so why would you?

4. No pressure defense.

Most of the time, people who play in pick-up games are there for the exercise. So, don't employ the hack-a-Shaq method and exert a ton of energy on defense.

Real basketball games are won on the defensive end. Pick-up basketball games are won by a barrage of efficient offensive plays.

Keep the body checks, hands in front of the opposing shooter's eyes and hard fouls to a minimum.

This isn't to be confused with playing with intensity on both the offensive and defensive sides of the court, though. You can play hard without the hard fouls that often come by playing overly intense defense.

3. Don't call fouls.

There are two parts to this: on defense, own up to a foul you commit and call it before the guy you hacked has to call it himself.

And on offense, just don't call fouls.

Unless you're fouled so hard that your health is in jeopardy, keep playing. Defenders should take responsibility for that.

Often, when someone knows they fouled you, he/she lets up momentarily because he/she is anticipating you to stop and acknowledge the foul. That gives you a brief advantage if you keep playing.

2. No place for trash talk.

Trash talking won't get you anywhere in a pick-up game besides the bench. As mentioned in rule No. 4, the beauty of pick-up basketball is getting a ton of exercise without realizing all the running you're doing.

Unless you're friends with the guy you're talking trash to and know for certain he won't take a swing at you for a joke about his mother, don't say anything derogatory. If you hit a deep shot against your defender, don't brag about it. Act like you've played basketball before and hustle back on defense.

1. Keep your shirt on.

There is no place for shirts-n-skins in a pick-up game. Figure out a way to decipher between your teammates and the opposition in another way.

Basketball is a contact sport, and I never want to defend a guy in the post who is half naked. Keep your sweat to yourself.

Remember that scene in the movie “Along Came Polly” when Ben Stiller was guarding a man without a shirt?

The guy goes up for a shot and slides his shirtless, sweaty stomach on Stiller in one of the grossest movie moments of all time.

That goes on outside of the theater too, and it's the top pick-up rule: keep your shirt.

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