Friday, April 2, 2010

I Got Text

Today the sun made it feel like the winter was far behind us in New York so I decided to go find a good park near my apartment in Queens to play pickup basketball. I laced up my high-tops and walked to Astoria Park because my neighbors had recommended it. Although it was my first time on a New York City court, I felt comfortable. I was in my element; I am a gym rat at heart. I had played many pickup games during my four years living in Chicago. I worked up a sweat as I began making shot after shot through a rim with no net. I hustled after my own rebounds. At least a half hour passed before two guys in their early 20s picked the players they wanted for a five-on-five full-court game.

I wasn’t picked. Neither was a chunky guy named Rojas. (I forgot his real name, but he told me everyone called him Rojas.) He called next.

Rojas was 29, and a year younger than me. We both had traveled a lot and exchanged stories. Since leaving the Navy a year ago, he had put on some weight.

“I used to be really good,” I told him. “But I just came here to get some exercise.”

“Me too,” said Rojas with a grin. “I was never good, but I know how to play and not suck.”

The players took a long time to finish their game, playing to 21 by one’s and two’s. By the time the game ended, three players had shown up. I told them they were playing with Rojas and me.

Then everyone began standing around the three point area as a couple guys from the previous game talked among each other. After a few minutes, I asked Rojas what was going on. He said he didn’t know. I spoke out loud so everyone would hear me, “We have our five right here. Where are your five?”

They tried arranging the teams, but there were more than 10 people. I thought they would simply pick their five guys and we’d have another game. Instead, a short guy with a shaved head said, “I don’t care who has next. I am playing. I am not sitting out.” Then there was some arguing, and one of the guys who was on my team walked off the court, saying he had enough of it. Then they divided up the teams and left Rojas out. I didn’t understand it. He had called next game. A tall guy stepped on the court next to him and said, “They texted me.” Then the other two guys on our team said the same thing.

“I’ve been waiting here since last game,” Rojas said. “Immediately after I wasn’t picked, I called next.”

“Yeah, but we sent him a text for next game,” said the short guy.

“But he wasn’t here,” said Rojas. “I’ve been waiting here before all these guys arrived.”

“I don’t know how to put it, except to say that we all grew up together and we’ve played on this court our entire lives,” said the short guy. “So we all know each other, and that’s how it is.”

“That’s how it is,” said another guy.

“They sent me a text,” said the tall guy. “That’s just how it is.”

I was shocked. I played the next game only because I looked more like a ballplayer than Rojas. In actuality we both deserved to play; we both had waited. These players were in their early 20s. Maybe it was a generational thing, but it seemed awful pretentious to me. Do I need to be on a special basketball forum, or have someone’s phone number just so I can play pickup basketball?

The short guy was on my team. He rarely passed, missed a lot of shots, and like the rest of my team, didn’t play defense. We lost. As I walked off and saw Rojas finally running down the court during the next game, I knew I would not be back.