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Obama's Advisors And Basketball Ethics

Mike's blog post below touches on a very, er, touchy subject in the world of pick-up basketball. Imagine you are playing a game with people you either do not know, or do not consistently play on the same team as (in other words, you rotate teams daily). And you are playing without uniforms. In the heat of the moment, someone will often shout for the ball, hoping that a member of the opposite team passes it and commits a turnover. Because people are constantly yelling for the ball in basketball, this can be a very effective trick. But is it ethical?

Mike ends his post by saying that if you are silly enough to fall for this maneuver, then you deserve to face the consequences, and I agree with him. However, it is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the most contested moves in pick-up basketball. And as far as I can tell, different games view the move completely differently. In some games this is a constant feature, so much so that almost no one falls for it anymore (the trick in an experienced group is to yell "ball, ball!" in an urgent and pained manner, thus fooling the opposing player into thinking that if he does not pass the ball instantly, he will blow his chance to make the right play). In other games, however, this practice is so frowned upon that it can cause fights. I was once playing on 17th and P streets in downtown Washington when someone tried this tactic. Not only did the guy who turned the ball over start swearing, but he refused to continue the game as long as the trickster remained on the court. After a heated back-and-forth, and some shoving (which is literally a heated back-and-forth), the game continued. On other courts, the maneuver will simply lead to a stoppage of play and dirty looks. If you are new, you have to adjust.

How does this all relate to Axelrod's game, the one Mike mentions? I have found that this ploy is most often used in games with older players, or people who are less athletic. Everyone knows that if you play with the old folks, they will do anything (anything) to make up for a lack of speed or quickness. And it often works. Who has not lost a game to a team full of guys who are on average twenty years older than your squad? They are cagey and clever, and know all the tricks (they also, if I may generalize, know how to throw elbows). Anyway, in this game you can only expect moves like this one. Axelrod (and Obama) are no longer spring chickens. However, if the president himself decides to adopt this tactic, he might find himself in a tricky situation one day. Passions run so high on this subject that even the leader of the free world might be shown a surprising lack of deference on certain courts.

--Isaac Chotiner