Heaven is a playground — San Diego: I played a game, but I learned a lot about life.

I played a game but I learned about life.
I played a game but I learned about life.

Pandas, Mexicans, Bill Walton, fans who leave in the 5th inning, the largest annual gathering of Captain Janeway enthusiasts in the universe.

If not for a fortuitous meeting in front of a mechanical bull, that’s all Peanut Butter Pie would have known about San Diego.

Life’s funny; one minute you’re talking to an Army mechanic about the best floozy dens in the Gaslamp and then you wake up to the realization that you have been living in Seaport Village for 10 months. A man can get lost in the year round perfect weather, beautiful women, and half priced Tuesday tacos.

Of course, it’s not all tanning oil, free clinics and Maalox.

Tourists travel to places like New York, San Francisco Paris and Tokyo because they want to feel the pulse of the city. Metropolises like these are literally alive; they have distinct personalities, an intrinsic uniqueness. Tourists only come to San Diego for a few reasons; the weather, and events like Comicon or places like the Zoo.

I’m not hating. The Zoo is phenomenal — hands down the best I have ever been to — but these things hardly breathe life into the city, or give it an intangible authenticity.

A place whose reputation is predicated on its tourist traps is bound to have that So Cal strip mall feel. Inorganic is the word I would use. I mean we are talking about a downtown that actually has a chain dive bar — if it has a corporate structure and shareholders it aint a dive bar.

Things have a tendency to feel watered down. Little Italy for example, it looks pretty and all, but please go to the North End in Boston or Little Italy in New York and then talk to me about real Pizza. The best Chinese around is PF Changs (white people serving Chinese food is a bad sign) and don’t get me started on the lack of bakeries, sub shops and delis. On top of that, there is very little in the way of neighborhood culture Sans Hillcrest (the Gay neighborhood). Continue reading “Heaven is a playground — San Diego: I played a game, but I learned a lot about life.”

Heaven is a Playground — Hoopfest: Jorts, Magnum P.I. Cedric Ceballos and futility at the free-throw line

A scrum of humanity at Hoopfest.
A scrum of humanity at Hoopfest.

The spandex wearers, the Hawaiian shirt guys, the full body suit people, Mario and Luigi, Spiderman, dudes in Jorts — Some people look really out of place no matter what context you view them in.

No I didn’t go to Comic-Con — although I have been told that I mean to basketball bloggers what Joss Whedon means to feminists. Where did I happen to see all of these outcasts and nerds? Amazingly enough, they all congregated at Hoopfest, the world’s largest basketball/streetball tournament.

Held in Spokane, Wash., Hoopfest features 42 city blocks transformed into 450 courts, filled with 7,000 teams officiated by 3,000 volunteers, viewed by 225,000 fans and the ice cream inside the Fudgie the Whale cake: Cedric Ceballos. Yeah, he was there — God only knows why.

The sheer volume of this event is truly awe-inspiring: Block after block of hardened weekend warriors of all ages and skill levels. When I say hardened, I mean Andre Rison at a strip club crazy. The chance to win a T-Shirt really brings out a man’s inner Jordan with the Flu Game 6: I saw an enormously obese 45 year old man dive into a group of teenage girls on concrete in an effort to stop a loose ball from going out of bounds – I can’t stress enough how hard these guys went.

This is one of those events where you see how important athletics are, not just in terms of the participants’ experiences, but the sheer impact Hoopfest has on the city of Spokane.

So how did I end up in the Nexus of the Basketball universe?

In Generations, Captain Picard went in to bring out his predecessor, Captain Kirk, in an effort to join forces in stopping a common enemy. I’d like to think I ended up in Spokane under similar circumstances.

My old buddy (and creator of one of the original basketball social media outlets, Hooptopia, which was basically a 2004 version of Infinite Hoops), E-hop, invited me to play in the tourney with his rag-tag Seattle basketball enclave.

In all my travels, I have seen some characters on the basketball court before. These guys did not fail to impress. Continue reading “Heaven is a Playground — Hoopfest: Jorts, Magnum P.I. Cedric Ceballos and futility at the free-throw line”

Heaven is a Playground: Segregation in a “progressive city,” calculus class and a back-breaking NFL Linebacker

That time an NFL player broke my back.

The Summer of 2009: North Korea conducted a nuclear test, swine flu broke out, the guy who looks like he has really bad body odor was reelected president of Iran – stuff was happening in the world!

I had just finished my sophomore year of college, so naturally I was far more consumed with the Jersey Shore and Jeremih’s debut single “Birthday Sex.” Millions of people worldwide spent that summer mourning serial creep-show Michael Jackson; by comparison, I came out looking pretty good.

In between episodes of “Brooke Knows Best” and “Tool Academy,” there were copious amounts of ball to be played. Days were filled with VH1, nights with Street ball.

My hometown buddies, George, Joe, Bobby and myself, composed the nucleus of perhaps the greatest pick-up basketball team in the history of athletics. Never have four un-athletic white people complimented each other so well on the court. We were like an NBA team winning the finals while starting Jason Kapono, Luis Scola, Brian Cardinal and Andres Nocioni. I took care of the post, Bobby was drain-o from behind the arc, George is the ultimate garbage player and Joe is the take it to the rack with your elbows out S.O.B.

It didn’t matter who our fifth was; I would have taken our chances with a well-placed trashcan. We weren’t going through B teams either.

The bulk of our winning happened at Corporal Burns Park on Memorial Drive in Cambridge; the court where Patrick Ewing learned to play the game of basketball and, at the time, easily one of the best courts in Boston. Back in the day you could find BU and Harvard players running pick-up there. Continue reading “Heaven is a Playground: Segregation in a “progressive city,” calculus class and a back-breaking NFL Linebacker”

Heaven is a Playground: Los Angeles; The Mecca of Wanna-Be Hoops

IMG_0658
Los Angeles is a wasteland of abominable basketball.

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.”
― Christopher Hitchens

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 had the entire offense running through Brian Scalabrine. It would be an absolute abomination.

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 loath L.A. the way the Starks’ feel about the Lannister’s, the Klingons about the Romulans, Victor Von Doom about Reed Richards and Rick Santorum about everyone. That’s how I feel about the city of Angels.

Some people love L.A., if you are one of those people, please understand that you have a better chance of changing a creationist’s mind about evolution then you do mine about this swill-pool of a city.

Now, before a chorus of “but Peanut Butter Pie, 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 then 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.

That is it.

No, I don’t consider Grauman’s Chinese Theater or anything else on Hollywood Boulevard to be cool – I have bigger hands and feet then Nicholas Cage; Awesome, I can sleep better tonight 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. Continue reading “Heaven is a Playground: Los Angeles; The Mecca of Wanna-Be Hoops”

Heaven is a Playground: Ballin’ in a Post-Apocalyptic Utopia

Panhandle Park, San Francisco
Address: Panhandle, San Francisco, CA 94117, nestled in between Fell and Oak Street.

Pan Handle Park
Pan Handle Park

In his autobiography Chocolate Thunder, Daryl Dawkins said of Bill Walton “Bill was the biggest dope smoker… I don’t think he bathed regularly.”

Essentially, San Francisco is a city of mini-Bill Walton’s.

The City is absolutely filthy – like Mike Rice Rutgers University gross. It has the feel of the Armageddon; mutant rats and all. Despite this, it is an absolute cultural Mecca; the only city I have ever been to that could be described as a post-apocalyptic utopia. Museums, art, sport, music, unique neighborhoods, a former maximum security prison that can be toured, crab sandwiches on the wharf, Chocolate from Ghirardelli Square – if it can be dreamed, San Fran’ most likely has it.

A traveler’s paradise, no matter what brought you to San Francisco, there is one universal experience all people who journey through the city share: Dealing with really bizarre people. Many are oddly charming (like city icon The Bushman); others, not so much.

I mean, is it asking for too much to be able to go out to a nice Thai Restaurant without having to witness the male body in all of its nude glory? What am I talking about? Yeah, people in San Fran love getting naked in public, especially men! We are talking about enough free-flying dongs that the city recently passed a ban on public nudity – of course, all of the enraged nudists protested by streaking through city hall.

I have often found in my travels that street ball is a microcosm of the city it is played in: How people play as well as how they conduct themselves on the court is reflective of the underlying culture and systems of the area. Some places, you have to dig a little deeper to see it, not so with San Francisco: From the moment I steeped onto the pavement at Panhandle Park I knew my experience would be unique to San Fran. Continue reading “Heaven is a Playground: Ballin’ in a Post-Apocalyptic Utopia”

Heaven is a Playground

IMG_14A(San Diego, CA) — Have you ever read Heaven is a Playground?

In 1974, a writer spent the entire summer observing the lives of a group of young street ball players in Brooklyn. Using basketball as a vehicle, the book presented the reader with hard hitting, and at times stomach churning, insight into the culture of poverty, race and the inner city. This is a book not about sport, but sociology.

Who am I and why are you reading this?

I’m a dude who travels a lot and plays far too much basketball.

My guess about you is that you’re catching a connecting flight somewhere in the America East Bermuda Triangle between Albany, Orono and Baltimore and have some time to kill. Or maybe you just really like mid-major basketball and Sam and Matt aren’t providing enough off-season content.

At any rate, back to me: how much basketball have I played? Enough to know that Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of practice theory is phooey!

But what basketball has not given me in terms of contracts and endorsement deals, it has given me in the form of insight, experience and understanding about the underlying culture of many of this country’s cities and small towns – and the people who toil on deadwood floorboards and cracked concrete courts.

Some people travel to sample food, or go to museums, and while that’s all well and good, it’s playing street ball that flips my flap jacks.

Periodically, during this off-season, I am going to relay some of the stories, anecdotes and encounters I have accumulated over the past couple years traveling and playing ball, as well as showcase different courts, players and events around the country as I experience them.

-Noah “Peanut Butter Pie” Perkins

Noah Perkins graduated magna cum laude from the University of Massachusetts at Boston in 2012. He’s a  philosopher, sociologist, explorer and world traveler who spends far too much of his time roaming cracked concrete courts and deadwood floorboards across the country. He also happens to be the younger brother of OBW creator Sam Perkins. Noah currently resides in San Diego, California, living the life of “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski, except instead of bowling, he plays far too much basketball.