For much of my life, I identified as a basketball player. I learned to play in eighth grade, and once my coach helped me take my game to the next level in ninth, I was hooked. Girls didn’t have access to play on elite sport teams outside their high school programs like they do today.
To find more competitive challenges, I played pickup. As a girl and then as a woman, playing pickup basketball means most of your teammates and opponents are guys. Some players were tentative at first until my skills convinced them I could hang with the big boys. If there was a court, I was there. This was true whether I was on vacation, at work, or in school. Even the guys I dated needed to prove themselves on a court first. One-on-one to a game of 21 would usually be the test.
The last time I played consistently was in a men’s league in Atlanta. I was 30. And that is if I don’t count my Thursday pickup games with co-workers while living in San Francisco, pregnant with my first child at 32.
Ultimately, motherhood put the kibosh on team sports. I struggled to find time and the energy to play organized ball, a perennial problem for many women athletes. I never made the decision to stop, life just happened.
While out on my morning run, I passed an outdoor basketball court. A full game was in progress. There were no girls or women playing–just dudes, many of whom could be dads with partners watching their children play on the adjacent playground. I wondered how many of those sidelined moms grew up playing basketball like me. How many still fantasized about lacing up and calling, “Next game!”
3 thoughts on ““We’ll be shirts. You be skins,”-says every guy who ever played pickup basketball against a girl”
You create both a social commentary and effectively create a sense of nostalgia – amazing. I was not a basketball player, but I was able to connect with the sense of collective joy that comes from women gathering and sharing even when that is in competition. And that last line brings the writing to life – I can hear the scrape of shoes making moves on the court and the exhuberance in voice. We all need to learn to play a bit more regardless of our social roles. What a wonderful slice and message.
A lot left unsaid here made me want to read further. You bring up this divide that is spread so wide, but generally, we step over it. You left me as a reader wanting to further the discussion about gender and sports.
Point well taken, BUT, I want to see you get back in the game!