The streetlights have already been turned on, but it doesn’t matter. Classic Jay-Z songs blare from a cheap speaker and a group of old heads sit on a bench, angrily debating something about hoops. A few 5-year-olds run around behind them, dribbling with mini basketballs, while another pickup game keeps rolling along. From eastern Queens to the top of the Bronx, this is how it goes every day—New York City basketball never stops.
It starts early, around 10. That’s when the older players get there, nailing bank shots while wearing beat-up sneaks. There’s still shade in the morning and the breeze will saunter through the air every few moments. Parents stroll by with their kids, dogs get to galloping with wild grins. The smell of bacon, egg and cheeses mixes with the scent of the asphalt.
The vets calmly keep shooting, getting their reps in before games start in a few hours, before they sit to watch the action. They were the main attraction at one point, when the game was different but the park was the same.
The ballplayers arrive around noon. They take their time when they get there, making sure everyone knows they’ve pulled up. They give daps to just about everyone. It’s a lock that at least one person is about to make fun of them—hairstyles, sneakers, clothes, lack of on-court skills are the usual points of emphasis. That trash talk lasts all day.
The sun’s fully breaking through when the day’s fir