The Newbie’s Guide to Hoops

by T-Bone “Sky” Burlison

I grew up in the Indiana countryside, where playing basketball was far more important than other activities, such as voting or attending college. It’s a land of the pick-and-roll, the back screen, the give-and-go; where defense and rebounding are as important as hitting the open man. To Hoosiers, basketball is art.

Then I moved out of state and to the Big City. The first Saturday morning, I tucked my ball under my arm and headed for the nearest court to find some fresh blood. I followed the sound of a bouncing basketball to a chain-link fence, where I stood slack-jawed, a single thought rebounding through my mind: What the hell are these people doing?

I was entering the world of hoops.

Hoops (or b-ball or just “ball”) is related to basketball in the same way 50 Cent is related to Mozart–that is, they originated on the same planet. This guide can save you embarrassment (and worse). Because if you wanna be ballin’, you gotta know the score.


Hoops is best played on an inner city playground, although any black-topped surface will suffice. Gravel and broken concrete surfaces are marginally acceptable–even hardwood (if nothing else is available).

The game may be played either “half-court” or “full-court.” In either case, the court can measure anywhere between ten and one hundred feet in width. In half-court, the court length is unimportant, since only the first fifteen feet is typically used. For full-court games, the length is best kept under forty feet so less time is wasted in transition and more time can be spent shooting.

The rim is a standard, eighteen-inch diameter basketball rim secured on a metal, fan-shaped backboard loosely mounted to its pole by two or three rusted bolts. The rim should sit no more than eight feet above the court, as higher rims require actual jumping ability to dunk. The rim will most likely slope downward at an angle of at least forty degrees (see “Bad-ass Moves,” below).

No net is used in hoops, as this not only slows the pace of the game, but also makes it more difficult to convince an opponent that his perfect shot was, in fact, an airball. (NOTE: A stylish fragment of chain is sometimes permitted to dangle from one edge of the rim.)

The ball may be any regulation-sized basketball, once it has been properly broken in, i.e., used until all the nubs are worn down and the ball looks like a black striped, orange bowling ball. Women’s regulation basketballs are especially appreciated, as it enables more players to palm the ball (again, see “Bad-ass Moves”).


First impressions are important in a job interview or a Presidential primary; in hoops, they are critical.

An official NBA basketball jersey with a player’s name on the back is de rigueur when playing hoops. Currently, the following jerseys are acceptable: Shaquille O’Neal (Celtics), Kobe Bryant (Lakers), LeBron James (Heat), and the perennial Michael Jordan (Bulls). Showing up with a Jason Kidd or Steve Nash jersey will likely cause confusion among the other players, or–in the unlikely event someone recognizes the name–could result in bodily harm to the wearer.

(Keep in mind that NBA players have far less loyalty than a cat in heat or the French, so teams names have probably changed by the time you read this.)

Shorts must have legs that fall to a point at least midway between the knee and the ankle. Ideally, the crotch should hang halfway to the thighs. If you have no such garment in your wardrobe, and cannot afford to buy one, ask your mother if she has something called “coulottes” from when she was younger.

Socks are legal, but frowned upon, as that money could have been better spent elsewhere (see “Air Jordans,” below).

Shoes must be Nikes. Period. Preferably all-black, and should be “Air Jordans” if you are to be taken seriously, although any Nike basketball shoe costing over one hundred dollars (U.S.) is acceptable.

Jewelry is not only allowed, but mandatory on many courts. Do not be deceived into thinking that wearing earrings, gold necklaces, and lots of rings makes you any less masculine.


No surviving hoops player is named Larry or Ed. Your nickname should be one that produces terror (“Icepick,” “Chainsaw,” “Glock”), admiration (“Air,” “Slam,” “Dr.”), or something wintery (“Chill,” “Ice,” “Freeze”). Feel free to incorporate elements or initials from your birth certificate. For instance, if your given name is Duane Lambert Pickford, you could go with “D-Dog,” “Cool-L” or “Ice-Pick.” Avoid “Du,” “Lamb” or “Picky.”


Hoops is played loosely along the same rules as standard basketball, but with a number of modifications. (WARNING: Actual modifications vary from court to court and even game to game, so be sure to observe for a while before venturing onto the court.)

Scoring: Each basket is worth a single point, unless one can inflate his own score (or reduce his opponent’s) without getting caught. Typically, games run to fifteen.

Make-it-take-it: Unlike basketball, hoops requires that whichever person scores a basket maintains possession of the ball. This keeps the emphasis of the game on individual scoring, where it belongs.

Loser’s Outs: Whoever loses a game typically gets the ball to start the next game. This helps to alleviate the need to play something known as “defense,” since you will eventually get the ball back in any case.

Traveling: This sissy call is unknown on hoops courts.

Palming the ball (or double dribble): See “Traveling” (above).

Three seconds: Attempting this call will get you severely beaten up, even if the man you’re guarding has grown visible roots in the lane and is unable to move without the help of construction equipment.

Goal-tending: You have got to be kidding.

Fouling: If the shooter is behind in the score, a foul is committed on every missed shot, even if said shot was a missed breakaway one-on-zero lay-up. Prior to the shot, however, leaning one’s entire body weight on an opponent, rendering him paralyzed below the shoulders due to fractured vertebrae, is legal.

Out-of-bounds: A moot rule, since stepping or dribbling the ball out-of-bounds has never happened in the history of hoops.

GAME STRATEGIES (with the ball)

Take the ball to the basket. Ideally, you should first stand outside the free throw line for at least ten seconds, dribbling the ball back and forth between your legs. This particular move has absolutely no value in basketball, but in hoops can score you serious “style points” with your bros, which is far more important than the actual score.

Once you have completed the above move, consider laughing at the man “guarding” you, and saying something like: “Shee, man, don’t know what th’ fug you lookin’ at, you ’bout to be used, mutha!” Combined with the between-the-legs move, this should convince your opponent he has no chance of stopping you, and is about to be “faced.” (See “Dictionary of Terms,” below.)

At this point, “juke” toward the basket, jump as high as you can, and hurl the ball in the general vicinity of the rim, much as you’ve seen NBA players do, only without any of the skill. This offensive strategy remains exactly the same whether playing one-on-one, five-on-five, or warming up.

In the unlikely event the ball goes through the basket, stare at your opponent in pity and say something like, “Cain’t stop me, cain’t nobody stop me, foo’!” Saunter (do NOT walk) back to the top of the key and wait for your crestfallen opponent to return the ball to you.

(LINGUISTIC NOTE: Mastering the dialect of hoops is important as the tomahawk dunk, regardless of your race, creed, or color. It doesn’t matter if you’re a six-foot-four dude from Watts or a five-five kid from Hong Kong: don’t step up if you ain’t got the word.)

Hitting two or more consecutive shots will usually convince your opponent to save “face” by giving up, and you can drive unimpeded for lay-ups for the remainder of the game, after which he will get a chance to play.

If your shot misses, and you are behind in the score, immediately yell, “Foul!” or “I got it!” or “Shee, man, why don’t you break my fuggin’ arm next time?” This will stop play immediately while you and your opponent discuss the incident for the next fifteen or twenty minutes, by which time no one will remember the score or, possibly, who had the ball in the first place. At this point, start a new game (see “I Got Next Game” in the Dictionary of Terms).

If you are in the lead when you miss the shot, it is considered good form to let the foul go, just to show what a good sport you are. This is optional, however.

(NOTE: Never, ever, say to your teammates “Sorry, bad shot,” even if your attempt flew over the backboard like a point after touchdown. Remember, it cannot have been a “bad” shot: you took it.)

If you decide to shoot from closer to the basket, for example after having missed twenty-five or thirty consecutive shots, you may use two techniques:

Technique One: Back slowly toward the basket while dribbling. If you lack actual ball-handling skills you can use the Magic Johnson method to protect the ball, i.e., use your free hand to slap away any arms that reach toward it. If you’re a big guy, use the Shaquille O’Neal method of slamming backwards into your opponent like an M1 Abrams tank stuck in reverse until you’re close enough to dunk.

Technique Two: This is for quicker players. Cut towards the basket, juking as much as possible without incurring spinal injury, and dunk if your man lets you get past him. If he doesn’t, hurl yourself into the air flinging the ball wildly in the general compass direction as the basket (see “Foul”).

Whenever possible, impress your opponents–and any onlookers–by peppering your offense with the following:


  • Dribbling the ball between your legs without ever advancing it.
  • Palming the ball (easier with women’s–or under-inflated–basketballs) while standing still, twenty feet from the basket, legs splayed, head weaving hypnotically left and right like a cobra’s.
  • Jumping up, grabbing the front of the rim and hanging from it, to show off your “air” (vertical leap). This is easiest on elementary school courts. (NOTE: If the rim is roughly horizontal, this is your chance to correct it.)
  • Dunking the ball then acting like you just won the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk competition, even if the rim is so low you have to duck to walk under it.

Work on these moves mentally, as any form of physical “practice” is fodder for ridicule.

GAME STRATEGIES (without the ball)

If your teammate has the ball, stay away from the lane so he can drive. Stand off to the side and listen to the banter between him and the man “guarding” him. If you pick up some good jargon, your time isn’t completely wasted.

If you are guarding the man with the ball, stand a few feet away from him so he doesn’t accidentally hit you with the ball while dribbling it between his legs. Grin at him and ridicule his skill, his hair (assuming he has any), his jersey, his shoes, his mama, or just yell out unintelligible jibberish to distract him: “Fug, man, whazzat? Whazzat ‘sposed be, ain’ got shee, man, ain’ got nuthin’ I ain’ seen, c’mon, lessee whachu got, ain’ got nuthin'” or other sounds to that effect.

When your man drives on you, back up until he gets within ten feet of the basket. He should have shot by then; if not, you now have the right to lean your entire upper body over his back, drape your arms around him like a mating orangutan, and grab him bodily when he tries to shoot.

If by random chance his shot goes in, shake your head as though you had just witnessed a Biblical miracle, slump your shoulders, close your ears to your opponent’s ranting, and gather your wits to assail him with another round of ridicule once he regains the ball (see “Make-it-take-it,” above). It might be worth trying the “airball” gambit here, if your opponent’s shot went in clean, without hitting the rim or backboard.

After your opponent hits his first shot, it is acceptable to try much harder on the next possession by using harsher language, ridiculing things you let pass last time, hanging onto him more fiercely, or even (if you can’t think of anything else) raising your arms from your sides. Should he score again he has earned the right to play out that game unimpeded, so stand aside when he drives to the basket. Odds are he’ll miss a lay-up at some point anyway, and you can go for the rebound and turn the tables.

Once a player scores and yells out, “That’s GAME!” (meaning he believes–or wishes you to believe–that he now has enough points to win), all play ceases until the ensuing argument concludes. Your correct response would be something along the lines of, “Game? Boo-shee, ain’ no fuggin’ game, whatth’ fug you talkin’ ’bout, you rollin’ or wha’, it’s twelve-ten OURS!”

If both opponents are equally devastating arguers, this debate could rage until dark. It might well be the most exciting–and most skilled–competition of the day, so watch closely.





You’re now prepared to step onto any playground and announce you “got game.” Drain a few three-pointers while the argument from the previous game winds down, slam some reverse dunks, then wait until you decipher which team you’re on. Once the game starts, you can now play with the best of them–as soon as someone passes you the ball.

Don’t hold your breath.

Airball: A shot that hits neither the rim nor the backboard. In hoops, this may include shots that go through the basket, depending on the arguing skills of the defender.
Blocked shot: To swat the ball away after it leaves an opponent’s fingers and before the ball goes through the basket and hits the ground. This is one of the key reasons to play on seven-foot rims. Try to spike the shot at least fifty feet off the court; simply deflecting the ball to a teammate is pointless, as that teammate most likely will not pass it back to you anyway.
Conscience: A troubled feeling some inferior players get after missing a couple dozen shots in a row.
Defense: Say what?
Faced: To have your shot blocked, be scored upon by an opponent when you actually guarded him, or have the ball stolen from you while executing your Michael-Jordan-crossover-dribble-reverse-spin move. “Facing” someone is unofficially worth approximately one thousand points.
Foul: The third-most common four-letter word used in hoops. More likely to have influenced your missed shot than gravity.
Guard (n): Whichever player happens to have the ball in his possession, as long as that player is between four feet and seven feet in height.
Guard (v): To stand somewhere on the same half of the court as your man.
Juking: A useless maneuver in which you thrash your head and shoulders in directions utterly unrelated to your direction of motion, usually employed while driving toward the basket. If you are guarding the juker, it is considered good form to pretend to be fooled by the juke.
I Got Next Game!: A pointless exclamation one makes while waiting for a game to conclude. In theory, the first person to call it gets to play in the subsequent game. In practice, the current players may well decide they don’t really know who won that game and start over.
Pass: A mythical technique where one voluntarily gives the ball to a teammate without shooting. Reportedly used mostly by white guys who shouldn’t have gotten the ball in the first place.
Practice: See “Defense.”
Shoot: The reason God put you on this planet.

There are an infinite number of variations on hoops. Some are minor; for example, how long one should hang from the rim after a dunk (hit or missed). Others are more significant, involving completely different rules. Here are a couple of major variations you might find on the court:
Scramble: This is known by many names: Scramble, Suicide, Two-on-One, etc. All of them are forms of hoops for three people. Since the laws of physics prevent anyone from sitting out while the others play one-on-one, Scramble was created for games of three. In this game, one person “jukes” to the basket while the other two stand under the rim waiting for the rebound. If the shooter manages to score, he gets to shoot something called a “free throw” until he misses. Usually this doesn’t take long. In the unlikely event the shooter hits two consecutive free throws, opponents are permitted to distract him by standing in the lane, waving their hands, or holding the shooter’s arms to his sides.
Horse: This is the classic game of skill whereby players demonstrate their superiority by hitting shots previously thought impossible, and that their opponents must then match. Good shots to use are the double-reverse fall-away three-sixty over-the-head reverse dunk, and passing the ball to oneself off the “glass” (backboard) and executing an alley-oop one-handed tomahawk slam dunk. Don’t worry if you cannot actually hit any of these shots; taking shots you’re likely to hit is for pussies.
If the laws of probability ever do enable a participant to hit a shot, his opponent must then do the same; if he misses he gets a letter. Resorting to tactics such as free throws, jump-shots, or left-handed layups will terminate the game immediately via the unspoken “ass-whuppin'” clause. The first player to get all the letters (HORSE) loses. Since several hours can elapse before anyone manages to hit five shots, it is acceptable to shorten the game to “HO.”

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