"Finally I get to guard someone who's shorter than me!"
-- the Chick Who Shut Me Down in Pick-Up Basketball the Other Day
If you're anything like me – that is, built like Dakota Fanning – you know the travails of being small. Aside from an ability to accurately depict Marty McFly at Halloween (I'll be the one on the Hoverboard, ladies), there is no upside to being short. It's well known that shorter guys get paid less, get laid less, and are viewed by every potential mate as little more than a genetic liability.
But worst of all, on the occasion that some Spunky Brewster invades your pick-up basketball game –- as recently happened at my gym, the 24-Hour on Colorado -- you will undoubtedly have to guard her. And as anyone who's done it knows, guarding a woman in pick-up ball is a classic lose-lose. School her and you're a dick. Get schooled by her, and, well, you no longer have one.
Lucky for you, I have encountered this dilemma so many times that I've constructed five handy rules for surviving this situation. Thank me later.
Rule #5: Give 100 percent. Show 72 percent.
The goal is to decimate her confidence and demoralize her while appearing bored and apathetic. It's a delicate art, but one you must master if you're going to survive your first encounter with a Sue Bird wannabe without having to relinquish your Man Card. Giving 100 percent will increase the odds she doesn't send you to the hospital with a severe case of broken ankles. Showing 72 percent will make you look cool. (Apathy is hot these days).
I focus on the little things –- moving my feet, active hands, no asthma attacks -– and try to keep her from getting off any easy shots. To appear bored, I walk or saunter up the court on offense, muttering incoherently under my breath about the "YWCA." The slow pace also keeps my lungs from collapsing. Very handy.
Rule #4: Guard her tight
No, perverts, this isn't so you can accidentally brush against her while D-ing her up. You want to guard her closely because any women with the confidence to play ball with men can probably stick an open jumper. However, as a woman, she likely moves with the speed of Zydrunas Ilgauskas getting out of bed in the morning. And while this may still be faster than me –- That pre-game KFC seemed like such a good idea at the time -– there's always at least one under-evolved Chris Kaman look-a-like waiting to swat her shit out of the gym, kindly drawing the attention away from my failure.
Rule #3: Accidentally brush against her while D-ing her up
A little creepy, sure. But if you're attractive, she'll be distracted by the prospect of making babies with you. (The only thing Sue Birds want more than to school you is to make babies.) Conversely, if you're like me, she'll spend the rest of the game concentrating on keeping a safe distance away from you, opening you up for some clean looks.
Rule #2: Avoid the ball
If your opponent can play some D, the best bet is to avoid the ball altogether. This sounds easy, but it's actually quite difficult to do over the life of a twelve- or fifteen-point pick-up game. The ball will find you. But with practice, you'll learn the subtleties of avoiding possession: keeping your defender between you and the ball, avoiding eye contact with the ball handler, falling down unexpectedly when an errant shot bounds your way.
Otherwise, you may find yourself forced to shoot or dribble, situations from which only disaster can strike. You know not humiliation until you've had your shot blocked by a high-school junior named Maddie.
Rule #1: Ask her out
This will really mess with her head. With all the elbows you've throwing when no one was looking (Rule #6), she probably figured you didn't really like her. And now, in the middle of a pick-and-roll, you wonder if she wants to see Nick and Norah later? Is this guy serious?
Hopefully –- I've never had the balls to test this rule, but it always seemed foolproof -- she'll ignore your advances and, desperate to show you she's no piece of meat, pick up her intensity level, resulting in erratic shots, clumsy turnovers, and yet another restraining order.
Either that or she'll say "yes." And that, my fellow ballers, is how you turn a classic lose-lose into a classic win-win. -- Joe Tone