THE NOMADS’ GUIDE TO PICK-UP BASKETBALL: Prospect Park YMCA, Brooklyn

Photo by Anna Moreno

Address: 357 9th St, Brooklyn, NY 11215


Exhale and release: I made it.

Seven months is not a long time, but in this city — the city that intimidated me to the point of not wanting to leave my house most days — time might have well have been some abstract concept: The type of philosophy taught to obnoxious 21-year-olds deluded into thinking they know the difference between book smarts and street smarts — seniors in college who think their fancy degrees mean something. I graduated Magna Cum Laude, but in this city, high honors means “go fuck yourself,” and if you’re one of those rich kids whose (white) privilege allows you to actually enjoy everything New York offers, then fuck you – yeah, I’m talking to you Lena Dunham.

Without a trust fund, living here is hell, but it’s the type of misery that molds you into a semi-worthwhile person.

What tangible skills do I offer society? I graduated college in 2012, which means I know how to do a lot of things on the internet; my attention span is a flat 20 minutes; I think I am super special; I want constant praise and validation despite the fact I have accomplished next to nothing in my life.

I’m not even putting myself down; I’m just giving an honest assessment of nearly everyone born between 1986 and 1994.

Thanks to this squalid hellhole, I can put real things on a resume, people contact me on Linkedin and I get called back for interviews. When I turned down grad school to move here someone said “New York is an education onto itself,” and they were right: I feel like I have learned more in the past seven months than I did in five years of college.

Where did you want to go after graduation: New York or L.A.?

The people who went the Angeleno path by in large disgust me: I get it, you watched a lot of Entourage and have transformed yourself into a total caricature.

New York City, though, with it’s brutal weather, inordinate cost of living and Christina Aguilera-stank quality of life builds character.You have to actually interact with reality here – in Los Angeles it’s urban sprawl and gated communities. In L.A., The rich never leave their cars and are afforded the luxury of ignoring those in the caste below them. In New York City, where 8 million people live on top of one another, the impossibility of owning a car forces Wall Street to overlap with Brownsville.

What’s life in the Big Apple like? Everywhere you go you get the feeling the city is hanging you upside down by your ankles and shaking out every nickel. My one bedroom with an outdoor porch, gym and swimming pool in downtown San Diego cost the same amount as my crap box of a studio in Brooklyn.

My Hasidic landlord pays more attention to pork then he does renters’ rights. The heat fluctuates most days between not working and working too well, meaning you’re either wearing nothing or everything.

Worse yet, sometimes the kitchen captures all of the heat leaving the bathroom arctic. The hot water is effective for about as long as Sebastian Telfair was and the shower head is reminiscent of the commando 450. Refrigerator light, working stove tops, those are commodities restricted to the Upper West Side.

And then you go outside.

Garbage lines the streets. The smell of charred meat, marijuana, dirty stove, body odor and tire fire coalesce, forming a layer between nitrogen and oxygen. Eventually, the headaches pass and the endless loop of construction noise fades into the background.

Without deep pockets it hard to find good run in NYC
Without deep pockets it hard to find good run in NYC. Photo by Anna Moreno

And then you have to interact with New Yorkers; obnoxious, aggressive New Yorkers.

They stop you in the street to ask “are you from Iowa? Because my son told me all tall white guys are from Iowa.” They shout at you on the subway “wash your ass, use water.” They constantly quibble with one another – once, I saw a meat vendor fight off an unsatisfied customer with a milk crate. Above all they are impatient; as soon as the light turns green, horns are firing in unison – cross the street at your own peril!

It is an odd phenomenon to feel so lonely surrounded by so many people. That’s New York City; you have only yourself to depend on – if you’re really lucky a significant other, but good luck finding one here, the concept of “I” is so imprinted on the culture, I imagine the dating pool is seriously diluted.

My former boss, a Parisian fashion designer, talked about her desire to leave — what does it say about this place, that in the fashion capital of the world even she wants out.

Opportunity and money is what attracts people; lack of happiness is what repels them.

I worked a trade show in March of 2014. It was fascinating to see so many people try and compete in the same space as industry giants. Individual designers trying to out sell Kate Spade, you know the odds are rigged against them, but there they are, slingshot in hand.

Interestingly enough the prevailing mentality on a New York City basketball court isn’t so different.

Hoopers are seriously selfish, but when you look at it from the perspective of cultural reflection, it makes sense. There’s not enough passing; too many players try to go one-on-five; it’s an every-man for himself fast break melee.

Dreamers chasing success in New York City have to put it on their own shoulders; I saw that everyday working for a designer. It’s easy to understand why pick up games in Gotham feature so many contested layups instead of wide open jump shots: That’s the environment these players live in. I can’t count how many times a guy would take it to the rack, my defender would dip off leaving me wide open eight feet from the basket, and the player driving wouldn’t even look at me.

New Yorkers play defense much as they live their lives, with unfettered aggression. The post gets incredibly physical; shoulders and thumbs digging into your spine. Every time I tried to cut into the lane, I got clawed and scraped. Defenders play tight; get an inch and your shirt gets tugged and stretched.

This guy ‘Snow’, at the Prospect Park YMCA, was my least favorite dude to play with. His 237-(self-proclaimed)-pound frame made him a tough defender. Combined with a bald-head that tapped the aura of Pero Antic, he stood out. Every time he muscled someone he’d shout, “that’s my paint” “he’s scared” or something equally grating. New Yorkers are an unfiltered bunch, when they think or feel they let you know quick.

Similar to everything else in the Big City, basketball is subject to exclusivity and pricing.

The upper echelon games gave new meaning to the question “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The nicest gyms, places like Chelsea Piers, were a stretch because playing there would have meant not eating for the next month.

Such is life, what the Chelsea Rec. Center and Prospect Park YMCA lacked in amenities they made up for in naked old men.

The Prospect Park YMCA creates challenges for corner threes
The Prospect Park YMCA creates challenges for corner threes

For a hoops junkie, ballin’ up in this city is a rite of passage. After all, much of basketball’s subculture is rooted in places like the Cage and Rucker Park. Look at how expansive the city’s influence on the game is: A guy with spectacles and a sweet mustache nailed a peach basket to a wall, and then about 50 years later, the Harlem Globetrotters beat the un-athletic-all-white-sport goggle-laden-NBA-Champion Lakers in an exhibition game, taking basketball to new heights in terms of popularity and, um, racial integration.

Even before the Dr. J’s and Kareems, playground ball’s impact on the pro game was obvious. When basketball was dominated by White stiffs who remind us of our middle school gym teachers, one guy stood out in a sea of blinding paleness: Bob Cousy, the New Yorker. Even this column was influenced by New York: the book Heaven is a Playground (which inspired this project) examines the sociology behind the sport following among others future NBA player Albert King as he dominated the playgrounds of Brooklyn.

I burnt out fast.

Even the comfort of basketball was fleeting. I could find run after midnight at the Aviator in Brooklyn, but during non-whino hours, it was difficult for a while.

I love this city for giving me professional direction and teaching me how to function as an adult in a trial by fire atmosphere. This is the best place to visit, with it’s cupcake ATM’s, bedroom restaurants, museums, Brett Favre Russian dolls, dudes who play hand saws like violins, boxed water and open-onesie-chest-fur-flaunting- High Line- walkers, but the exhaustive grind made me hate living here.

On the court I started depending on a step back jumper for the first time in my life, a new wrinkle to the repertoire. I was tired of the physical abuse I took with my back to the basket so I adapted.

That’s the Big Apple: adapt or get out.

o
The exterior to the Prospect Park Y
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.