Not too long ago, I linked to a website promoting a documentary about pickup basketball called "Ballin' at the Graveyard." The site Basketbawful just interviewed one of the makers of that film, Basil Anastassiou.
I have to admit, I was a little scared by this part of the conversation:
But do you think pickup basketball cultures like the Graveyard are a dying breed? A lot of the courts I used to play at, especially the outdoor courts, are usually empty and deserted, even on the weekends. Have you noticed this, and has it affected the Graveyard?
I'm not sure. I can tell you that when I get back to my hometown of Syracuse on occasion, I drive by my old hoop haunts, and the courts that used to be hopping are empty. I don't know where Syracuse pickup ball has gone, but it's not nearly what it used to be.
On the other hand, Albany has a buffet of pickup ball. Along with the Graveyard, there are at least two other parks where you can set your clock to the games. There are also some serious pickup runs at a few of the Y's in the area. Each of these games has its own vibe. They're not the Graveyard, but they have their moments too.
The young guys are the ones who will keep the pickup ball traditions going in our communities. But lately I've noticed that there are fewer and fewer teenagers on the courts. We have a group of teenagers and guys in their early twenties at the Graveyard, but their numbers are much smaller than the guys in their 30's and 40's. When we asked these young guys why they come, they told us that they learn a lot about the game by playing against the old dudes -- fundamentals and the mental aspects of the game -- and they utilize these skills on their high school and college teams. Many of them try to entice their young friends to come down on the weekend, but they don't have many takers. I'm not sure why that is, but it's a shame. Pickup ball is not only great entertainment and an unbelievable workout -- it's a life lesson every time out. It would be great if more young people experienced that environment.
I can tell you this: when a big health club opened up in my town a few years ago, a lively pickup scene in the local park was cut in half, and has since dwindled to the point that it's not worth going there without enough people for a game. Meanwhile, the other half of the players, at the health club, only manage reliable runs a couple of times a week. Never occurred to me it was part of a big trend, though. That would be terrible. (And if this trend is real, what are people doing instead? Can we blame this on video games?)
Have you noticed the same thing?