My Favorite Places: Basketball Courts and Gyms
- Charles M. Finley Recreation Center; Philadelphia, PA: The Beginning. The Foundation. My Holy Grail. Whatever other way there is to describe to you what this place means to me, fill in the blank, but I’m sure you get the idea. Finley is the place where I first played basketball, spent countless summer afternoons with the other dudes my age from the hood playing ball, and, most importantly, spent countless summer afternoons all by myself, practicing, shooting, dribbling, dunking, and
developing the work ethic that remains with me to this day on the scorching blacktop. I started out on “B Court,” the second of the two outdoor full courts at Finley, honing my fundamental skills and developing some type of niche as a player against the second- and third-tier players in Mt. Airy. I finally moved on to “A Court,” where the best played, and came to hold my own by the time I was in college. I haven’t played a full-court game at Finley in 3+ years; can’t say if I will again. Concrete and my knees don’t have the best relationship these days.
- Campus Gymnasium, PSU Abington: I walked into this gym knowing nobody and nobody there knowing me, but within a week of school starting I was well established. Coming out of high school, I knew I could play college ball, and going to this 2 year (for athletics, at the time) school, I knew I’d easily be one of the best there. I wasn’t wrong about that, even though my performance during the season didn’t always equal the promise I showed early on.
The pickup games here were incredibly weak, mostly due to the lack of quality players outside of the bball team, plus the fact that playing pickup ball wasn’t much of a priority for many people here. Not even the bball team guys, for that matter. It was in this gym, however, that i spent the summer of 2001 working on my game, almost always alone, for months both before and after I had made my transfer to Altoona official. I spent about 6 weeks in the summer of 2006 here as well, after returning from Mexico. There were some current Abington players in there occasionally, who I torched daily in games of one-on-one and two-on-two. Beating those guys became boring to me after about 2 weeks; my game was so on-point I was ready to play anywhere.
- Adler Gymnasium, Altoona, PA: I remember walking into this building for the first time, in the summer of 2001, and Coach Macklin telling me how packed the building would be for Midnight Madness (and it truly was… too bad the school did away with Midnight Madness, along with Macklin, after the following season.) The pickup run in Adler was 12 times better than anything that had ever taken place in Abington, largely due to the fact that the “common folk” hoopers were a lot better, more competitive, and played ball just as much as the players from the team did. The pool of players from the team was pretty deep here as well; I had to bring my best to dominate in Adler Gym (as opposed to going 70% in Abington and still not come close to being stopped). I can unequivocally say that I improved more through pickup games and workouts here (especially after Wes, B, Tone & I formed a society of working out, so to speak) than I did through team practices and games. My last year in Altoona, there were 6, by my count, players on campus that would go on to, or could have, played professional basketball… And there were never more than 3 of those 6 on the hoop team at the same time. Hence, the pickup games. There were arguments, fights, threats, players from other colleges coming through to run, local heroes coming in, you name it. It was here at Adler that I went from “I know I’m good enough to play here,” to “I’m one of the best players on the floor, no matter where I go and who else is playing.” A huge step in my development.
- LA Fitness, Fort Washington, PA: I joined LA Fitness in January of 2005; I had initially came into the gym with a 2-week pass printed off of their website. The manager there, though, nicely offered me a “special discount” (ha) to join as a member that day. I accepted. I had only brought a pair of cross-training Nike Hurraces with me that day, as I knew there was some weird policy about 2-week pass users not being allowed to use the basketball courts. So I was only prepared to be lifting weights. I ended up playing some full court bball anyway, and there was some scrappy White kid guarding me and doing pretty well, as a matter of fact. I ended up beating and outplaying him in the end, but the rust from not working on my game in a couple months was smacking me in the face that day. I spent long days in the LA Fitness location, sometimes going in around noon and not leaving until 8 PM, after running some evening pickup ball. Weights, hitting the punching bag, hours on exercise bikes, basketball, I did it all in there. There weren’t many great players in the Fort Washington LAF, but there were damn sure a lot of RLPs. And they came out in droves.
- LA Fitness, Andorra (Philly, PA): The Andorra LAF, by contrast, featured a host of PBs, CPs, and very good RLPs all the time. Weeknights, you could barely see the court until you pushed your way through the crowd surrounding the floor, it would be so packed. Games were intense as well- the General Manager of the Andorra LAF banned bags of any kind from being brung into the court area because of a few too many weapons being brandished over game conflicts. I had a good amount of clashes with some Philly streetball legends, one in particular who shall remain nameless mentioned here, who frequented the gym. Streetball stars, pro players, near-pro players, and college kids all frequented this location.
- Aquatic Fitness Center, Bala Cynwyd, PA: Those early Youtube vids? All made in the AFC,
which was conveniently a 3 minute drive from my apartment on City Line Ave in Philly. I played very little pickup ball here; I got my workouts in (as well as recorded all that footage for my vids) when the doors opened at 5:30 AM. I met a couple trainers and employees here through them knowing my face from being there so much, and the cardio machines had the biggest TV screens attached to them that I have ever seen, even to this day. This is also the only public place, to date, in which I regularly took showers.
- LA Fitness, Clearwater & Tampa FL: The pickup run at Tampa’s LAF
was pretty good once a week, and I played in the summer league there starting in late July 08 (My player classification system was born of seeing too many players that didn’t understand their position in the pecking order). By the end of my time in Tampa Bay, I was working out at 5 AM in LAF, and came to be quite familiar with the front desk woman and my man who kept the gym floor nice and sticky (what up dog!). Competitive bball in Clearwater’s LAF was limited to one-on-one and games of knockout and 21 with the only two good players I ever saw in there, Tuck and Nick.
- 24 Hour Fitness, Miami, FL: There was one 24hr where this controversial vid was created also where Wes & I would run pickup with the helplessly weak players Miami had/has to offer. I’ve stayed away from there after sustaining an injury that lingered for 8 weeks playing against some clown who wanted to talk himself up. I’ve worked out in all the 24s in the area though, and may put a team in the league they host in the summer. We’ll see.