EL CAJON, CA — The hardest thing about pickup basketball is managing the number of players. The game is meant for 10 players (or in the case of Lunchsketball, 8 players). Go above that number, and the court gets crowded. Fall below that number, and there is more open space on the court, and the game becomes a track meet. To have either of those two problems means that you are lucky in the first place – it’s a small miracle in this day and age to find enough guys willing to meet up and play basketball at all.
Gary (aka “G-Money”), has voluntarily positioned himself as commissioner of Lunchsketball, and thus taken up this task of personnel management. Bearing no actual authority, Gary has become resourceful in finding ways to control who shows up on the court at lunch and who stays back at the office. Among the methods at his disposal are peer pressure, guilt, payroll (in cases where he signs a timesheet), and shaming, to name a few.
Gary’s methods came under the spotlight this week when John (aka “Versace”), contacted the Lunchsketball blog, wishing to share an incident in which he became involved. He alleges that on the morning of January 13th, 2014, he emailed Gary the commissioner, requesting to play basketball at lunch. He received this reply from Gary:
“Sorry John….we have enough today…..maybe tomorrow…..”
“[Gary] tried to tell me that he wasn’t trying to diss me, and that he would see if he could ‘slip me in’ later in the week,” explained John. “His attitude was that you can’t just come in and expect to play.”
The idea of excluding a particular player from Lunchsketball does raise some questions, but especially in the case of someone like John, whose struggles getting onto the court are well documented. Of all the players to freeze out, John was perhaps an unfortunate choice.
“It’s my first time back in a year,” says John. “That’s not a very good way to encourage me to keep coming out. Obviously I was disappointed. I got up that morning, and I was excited, I told my wife I’d be playing , and then to have my hopes dashed like that… my heart was broken. It just took the wind out of my sails. For the rest of the day I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
In approaching the Lunchsketball blog with this story, John wanted to make it clear that he does not hold any animosity to Gary. Because John insists that he is on good terms with the commissioner, it would be nice to say that’s the end of the story. But it isn’t. When one victim steps forward, the case is often that there will be more to follow. What happened to John was not an isolated incident. The second victim, who wishes to be called “E”, in order to protect his identity, provided an interview so startling, that it must be transcribed in full as follows:
LB: When John told you that he wasn’t allowed to play, what did that make you think?
E: I felt guilt. I felt guilty because I was going to play, and I felt sorry for John.
LB: You’ve been in John’s situation before. Can you tell us about that?
E: It doesn’t feel good. You come into work, expecting to play basketball, and come noon? You’re not allowed to play! Why me? And most of the time, when I’m not able to play, I’m harassed for that: “Come on. You’ve gotta play! You’ve gotta play! You’ve gotta play!” And then, on a day I’m prepared to play? No luck. It’s schizophrenic! He wants it both ways at once.
LB: In his email, Gary suggested that John could play, “maybe tomorrow”? Do you believe that Gary really believed there would be a game at all “tomorrow”?
E: I’m sorry, I’m not comfortable answering that.
LB: So we know that this has happened before. Since there’s a history, do you worry that these types of abuses might continue to happen?
E: I’m always concerned that it’s going to happen to me again, because it’s been me in the past. It’s a strange a position, because even though I hope it doesn’t happen to me, I know it’s going to happen, and I don’t want to wish it on somebody else. I wish we could just go with 13 or 14 guys and play, and just make it work. One extra guy is not going to hurt anybody.
LB: Do you have any advice for John, in dealing with this?
E: Take heart. The field is always open amongst the other players, even if the commissioner [Gary] doesn’t feel so open.
LB: What words would you have for Gary, if he were here right now?
E: Soften your heart. Just let everyone enjoy the game. I always say, in quiet, hey, if you don’t like playing with 10 or 11 guys, you can step out. The rest of us are willing to put up with 11 guys, and do battle.
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