The Nomads’ Guide to Pick-Up Basketball: Elysian Park, Los Angeles

"It’s [Los Angeles] mostly full of nonsense and delusion and egomania. They think they’ll be young and beautiful forever, even though most of them aren’t even young and beautiful now.”

Original Photo by Diane Edwardson

Address: Riverside Drive Between Fletcher and Stadium Way

Visualize the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett-Ray Allen World Champion Celtics of 2008. Now, picture head coach Doc Rivers running a game plan that had the entire offense running through Brian Scalabrine.

In a nutshell, pick-up basketball in Los Angeles is a bunch of Brian Scalabrine’s who think they’re Paul Pierce.

Before I go any further, it should be noted that I hate Los Angeles.

Hate isn’t strong enough. I loathe L.A. the same way the Starks’ feel about the Lannister’s, the Klingons about the Romulans, Victor Von Doom about Reed Richards and Rick Santorum about everyone.

Some people love L.A., if you are one of these people, please understand, you have a better chance of changing a “scientific” creationist’s mind about evolution than you do mine about this swill-pool.

Now, before a chorus of “but there are so many wonderful things about this city” starts let me point out the positives:

  • The Griffith Park observatory: Just flat out cool. Looking down upon L.A., Santa Monica and Hollywood from up here is incredible. Taking in this view makes you feel like Zeus on Mount Olympus
  • Runyon Canyon: Another awesome outdoorsy place; great hiking and great views. The landscape here is beautiful; the people are another story – seriously, how much makeup do you have to put on to go hiking?
  • The Staples Center and the Lakers: Watching a Lakers game live is a totally different kind of experience; they dim the lights and serve you sushi and wine at your seats, setting an ambiance that makes basketball more art than sport. The downside is you are surrounded by pink-hat LA “fans” who would rather watch Khloe and the other societal drains sitting courtside than Kobe.
  • Taco Trucks: The cheap Mexican food throughout the city is bomb — no other way to put it; trucks are open late and provide delicious tacos and burritos, soothing even the drunkest Angeleno.

No, I don’t consider Grauman’s Chinese Theater or anything else on Hollywood Boulevard to be cool – Awesome, I have bigger hands and feet than Nicholas Cage; can I sleep better at night knowing this?

What makes Los Angeles so awful?

For starters, there’s cleaner air and less pollution in Raymond Felton’s bathroom. The American Lung Association once again ranked L.A. as the most polluted city in the Country (2014).

L.A. also has the dubious honor of being consistently recognized as having the worst traffic in the country – if purgatory exists, surely it’s the 10.

There’s the abominable public transit system.

The impossibility of walking anywhere.

The lack of quality Chinese or Italian cuisine.

The crime.

Skid Row and the homelessness.

The corruption of the LAPD.

There are no neighborhoods or sense of community; just one strip mall after another. Every corner has an Asian doughnut shop, a Thai massage parlor and a few other nondescript businesses. Parking lot plazas and urban sprawl are what define the city; you could drive through the entirety of L.A. and feel like you’re still in the exact same place. Everything looks identical no matter where you are – the only thing that distinguishes Little Armenia from Korea Town is that the signs go from English to squiggly lines (has anyone in Boston ever confused Chinatown with the North End?).

Los Angeles is the second most heavily populated city in the country, yet its only distinction is a complete lack of culture and character.

Just like the cityscape, the people blend together as uninteresting, egotistical-self righteous-self important-narcissistic-vapid-oxygen-drains. They were good enough looking in high school or bored enough after college that they decided they wanted to be the next Chris Hemsworth or Kaley Cuocco – we are talking about people who aren’t even trying to emulate real artists with real talent; they aspire to be empty vessels.

The wannabe photographers and musicians are even worse. They love to hear the sound of their own voice but they have nothing worthwhile to say. They think they possess a profound understanding of the world all the while their parents are financing their avoidance of it.

As Neil Simon said “when it’s 100 degrees in New York, it’s 72 in Los Angeles. When it’s 30 degrees in New York, in Los Angeles it’s still 72. However, there are 6 million interesting people in New York and only 72 in Los Angeles.”

And the easiest way to spot a fraud in Los Angeles is on the basketball court.

Whether you’re playing on a lower-tier court or an A court (Venice Beach being a notable exception), there is a very LA-centric style of play. Delusions permeate through every other avenue of the city, so it should come as no surprise that most weekend warriors here have no idea how to play within themselves.

I played a game once at Elysian Park where the worst player on the court – a guy who took and missed just about every shot (a Chucker as Seinfeld would say) – quit mid-game because the rest of the team “didn’t want to run.” He then had the audacity to go to the other side of the court to shoot alone – while full court play continued. If you’re going to go all A.I., at least have the ability to put points on the board.

The most common examples of Scal-Ball I’ve seen here:

– Not passing to the open man on a fast break; opting instead to take a heavily contested lay-up.

– Passing up an open shot in favor of a defended, corner fade-away.

– Guys with the athleticism of Karl Rove trying to bring the ball up the court and run the offense.

The cause of such abysmal hoops: The culture combined with the influences of Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson. L.A. is a land of impostors, people who live artificial lives constantly playing roles instead of developing their own identity, and L.A. Hoops is a microcosm of this – L.A. ‘ballers aren’t playing basketball; they’re playing Kobe.

I mean, NBA players can’t even be this guy, so what prayer does the average Elysian Park hooper have?

Bottom Line:

The style of play is frustrating, but if you and your buddies have any semblance of talent or basketball IQ you will paste the court, and who doesn’t like winning?

Furthermore, basketball is constantly being played in L.A. It doesn’t matter what time or what day it is, if you want to run ball you will find games.


Photo by Noah Perkins
Noah Perkins
Noah has had articles published by a variety of publications including The Bangor Daily News; The NENPA Bulletin; and Monthly Basketball (Japan). His column ‘Heaven is a Playground’ has been featured on ESPN Radio. Noah was also called a "thirst troll" by Tom Arnold once.