Every rec center, public park, and YMCA from New York to SoCal has its quirks when it comes to on-court diction and decorum. But while you could debate certain points—like whether it’s called “change” or “respect”—some of the unwritten rules of pickup basketball are not open to interpretation. Break one of them, and you’re definitely That Guy.
Jordan Morgan played center for the University of Michigan during their recent Final Four and Elite Eight runs. This year he’s established a foundation to help low-income kids, and he’s headed to France to play pro ball for Hermine Nantes Atlantique. Here, he lays out some of the biggest no-nos you run into playing pickup.
YOU CALL FOR THE BALL EVERY SINGLE PLAY
You’re covered like a blanket and standing still three feet outside the arc, but you’re still shouting for the rock. “Trust me, we haven’t forgotten you’re on the team,” Morgan says. “There’s a reason we stopped throwing you the ball.” It helps things a little—a little—if you’re one of your squad’s best players. But even so, “we can do without you calling for the ball every time down the court,” Morgan says.
YOU CALL LOOSE BALL FOULS
“A foul is a foul,” Morgan says. “But nobody cares about the jersey tug at the three-point line when someone is grabbing the rebound under the basket.” He says basketball is a contact sport, and you’ve got to learn to brush off the occasional shove or grab. “I’m sorry, but you don’t get the ball every time someone bumps into you,” he says.
YOU CALL OUT THE WRONG SCORE
It’s cool to shout out the tally after a basket … if you’re absolutely certain you’ve got it right. Otherwise keep your mouth shut. “Because of you we’ve had to stop and argue the score three times already,” Morgan says. “We aren’t sure if you’re consciously skewing the score in your team’s favor or if you’re just incompetent.” Either way, cut it out.
YOU ONLY PLAY OFFENSE
You’re the energizer bunny when your team’s got the ball. But when it’s time to D-up, you kind of half-ass your way to the key so you can seem involved while shuffling in place. Respect your opponents and the game enough to play both sides of the ball.
YOU’RE TAKING CHARGES
Seriously, bro, you need to dial down the intensity a notch. “Nobody wants to get hurt in a game they were really only playing for the cardio workout,” Morgan says. If you’re trying to slide under every guy who drives to the basket, injuries are going to happen.
YOU’RE WEARING A JERSEY
This is kind of like going to a concert wearing the T-shirt of the band you’re seeing. It’s just a little too much. Yes, your old-school Bill Laimbeer or Toni Kukoč jersey is super funny and ironic and whatever. You still look like an asshole.
YOU CALL A FOUL EVERY TIME YOU BRICK A SHOT
“It’s not a foul just because you missed,” Morgan says. “The best players in the world miss shots, so naturally you will to.” He says the worst is the guy who calls a phantom foul only after he’s seen his shot clang around and roll out.
YOU SHOUT “OFF!” EVERY TIME ANOTHER GUY SHOOTS
There’s a certain kind of unctuous, chatty, passive-aggressive East Coast prick who thinks it’s cool to shout “OFF” before the ball has left his opponent’s hands. If you’re that guy, please stop. We mean playing basketball altogether. Just stay away from us.