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Culture of competition: Bonds built in weekly basketball games
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Chris Glenn immediately breaks out in a smile and throws his arms around his friends Jonathan Dover and Jonathan Thompson as they meet in front of the entrance to the South Hall Community Center on a recent Friday afternoon. The players have arrived almost simultaneously at 3 p.m. at the gym in Oakwood for a regular session of pick-up basketball with a group of about a dozen players.

The players arrive ready for a full plate of basketball on this summer afternoon. When the games finally start shortly after walking into the steamy gym, they prepare to play as many games as they can squeeze in before they lock the doors at 9.

“Basketball is a lot of fun to get to play and just chill out,” Thompson said. “The gym is kind of the hang out spot for us.
“If you’re having a problem with a girl, or something, you can just go to the gym and shoot.”

Pick-up basketball is a form of the game where there is no shot clock, no referees and no written rules; players are left to police their own actions. Tugging on the opponents’ shirt and reaching with an elbow without fear of penalty are all part of the game.

Glenn and his friends are representative of the weekend warriors in this tight clique that consistently meets at the same court to play. There’s no need to send out text messages, e-mails or make phone calls when it’s time to play; they already know where to be to join in the action.

“Playing basketball is just a great way for us to get together with our friends,” said Glenn, a senior at West Hall High.

Pick-up basketball games, such as these, are not exclusive to any particular pocket of society. Players of all ages, races, backgrounds and playing experience get together for the sheer camaraderie that basketball brings. Recreational basketball is also one of the easiest and most accessible sports to play with the only requirements being players, a hoop and a ball. Even President Barack Obama is a pick-up basketball participant, when he gets a chance.

“I think basketball is one of the most popular sports for people to play,” Dover said. “Since you don’t have to have much to play, it’s easier to get a group together.”

Pick-up games can be found in state-of-the-art facilities, raggedy, run-down gyms, and on outdoor courts and playgrounds all across the country. The player that can dunk and drive down the lane with the skill of a professional player is just as likely to be seen playing pickup basketball as the guy that can barely dribble without tripping over his own feet.

Glenn and his friends are all in the age range of the final year of high school up to the early 20s. Some of the players that descend on the South Hall Community Center have a background playing at the high school level, while others are just searching to find a positive outlet to fill the long, idle hours as summer starts to wind down.

Glenn, Thompson and Dover all say that there is a common understanding between this group of players in their pickup group: any kind of dispute or confrontation can be resolved without any kind of physical altercation. Of course, with this group, players are more likely to congratulate an opponent for a nice shot or help them off the floor underneath the basket since they’ve all been playing together for so long.

“Sometimes we get at each others throats, but we always get over it,” said Thompson, a recent Flowery Branch High graduate.

Another aspect of the pickup basketball world is that there is no running scoreboard. Players in the South Hall group continually have to take stock of the score by backtracking through who’s already scored. On this day, players seem to not be bothered by the hot, sticky conditions in the gym. An open door and fans are the only relief from the heat.
But players don’t seem to mind battling the elements when bragging rights are on the line.

On this given day, it is one player that is stealing the spotlight. Steven Satterfield, 20, steps between the 3-point arc at the top of the key and drains a basket.

“Wooosh,” Satterfield said looking at the other team. “It’s just too easy.”

Later on, Satterfield drives the lane and twists the ball in mid air between defenders and lays the ball off the glass for another basket. After each game, the players converge with their teammates and go over strategy for the next game.

However, win or lose, they’ll be back next week for some more pickup basketball with their friends.

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