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What is pick up basketball? Why You Should Play


If you are new to basketball or are thinking about playing the sport for the first time, you came to the right place to learn about pickup basketball. Pick up basketball is the way you learn how to play, before migrating into a real game with referees. But what exactly can you expect when you play?

What is pickup basketball? Pickup Basketball is when a group of players at a basketball court make teams that usually consist of four on four or five on five. The game is played full court, the score is determined based on the court and the rules that are usually played there. Baskets usually count by ones and twos, but not all rules apply like they do in a game that has referees. When a game is over, the winner stays while the losers sit out. Other players who were waiting to play would have called the next game and will play the winners.

We will further discuss what to expect when playing pickup basketball and some of the unwritten rules of the game. I am willing to bet the first time you play you will be hooked.

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What is a Pickup Basketball Game?

In sports in general a pick-up game is when a group of players get together and spontaneously start a game. This happens in soccer, football, and especially in the game of basketball. Players usually know where and when to show up to a basketball court to play pick up basketball. You can play one game or a hundred games, there is no commitment to stay. You can come and go as you please. The downfall of pickup basketball is that it can be unorganized and will have less structure than a regulated basketball game considering the game doesn’t have any referees.

 Generally, when we talk about pickup basketball it’s usually 5 on 5 full court. If it’s the first game of the day players will match up to a person equal to their skill level and play rock paper scissors. Winners in the small game go to one side while the losers on the other side.

Or players will shoot for teams, with makes on one side and misses on the other side. Also, if you have 5 guys and you challenge whoever wants to play is another alternative. To determine who gets the ball, one player from either team will shoot for it. If they make it, their team’s ball, if they miss its the opposing team’s ball. This is called Do or Die. By the time the game gets going a few more players will have arrived and will be waiting to play next.

The players waiting will have two options to pick their team, players can shoot for it with three of the five players who make a basket from the three-point line play the next game alongside the two players who were waiting for the next game. The other option is the two players waiting for next just choose 3 out of 5 players who had just lost the game to be on their team.

Why you should play pick up basketball? 

There’s nothing like pick up basketball you can go to any court, indoor or outdoor, and get a game going from 1 on 1 to 5 on 5 with completely random strangers. Sounds like Tinder, I know. Not personally….never mind. Not only is it fun but there are many health benefits also and you won’t even realize you exercising while having fun doing so.

The great thing about basketball there are so many alternate games and variations you can play :

  • One on One, two on two, three on three, etc.
  • Bank
  • 21
  • American 21
  • Around the world
  • Horse

Looking for rules to these games Click the links below, I explain all the rules and variations you can play with these games listed above.


The Unwritten Rules of Pickup Basketball

When it comes to pick up basketball there are some rules that are non-existent in the game and for good reason. Any rules that could cause an argument are removed from the game so it seems, those rules are:

  • Three in the key
  • Offensive fouls
  • Charges
  • Backovers depending on the court. 
  • Free throws
  • Shot clock
  • Game clock
  • Violations

Not having a ref is good and bad. Good because now you don’t have to worry about the ref making a bad call or no call at all as you see on tv. But bad because now you have to worry about your own foul calls. Why is this bad you ask? Because its the number one reason arguments happen, fistfights, and courts getting shut down.

Many minutes are wasted arguing calls at every court. The solution? shoot for it. The problem? Not everyone will as they believe to be right.

Player Types

I must admit, growing up I was not a social butterfly, I was more reserved in who I let in my inner circle and even who I talked to. But I can’t tell you how many people from all walks of life that I met through basketball. I am actually glad I played the sport for this alone.

Basketball isn’t all fun and games at the courts. I have talked about the number of arguments that can go on while playing with the different characters you come across on a daily basis. Some of these characters clash and the arguments can last a while. Here are a few stereotypes that you may notice on the basketball court.

 Mr. Rage Quitter

The guy who gets mad and angry at every play, argues every call even though it doesn’t involve him. When he misses a shot he screams and yells, blames everyone on the court when his man scores. Knows he is going to lose the game so he goes out with a bang by stopping to argue and then sporadically leaves extremely upset with the game ball, which isn’t his.

Mr. Athletic Dude

Can jump out the gym, do any dunk with his 6 foot 8 frame. You think he’s going to be blocking shots like someone who is sitting on the rim not allowing the ball to go in, but to your surprise to see how terrible he is, cant do a layup in traffic or even block a shot, stays at the three-point line trying to shoot Steph Curry range. Catching a fish for him is easier than catching a basketball. You realize that his shot form is worse than Lonzo Ball. You find out he bought Lonzo Ball’s shooting instructional video.

Mr. Just Got Out Of Jail

You know the guy you would be scared to be cellmates with if you went to prison. He is out on parole because he murdered someone, he plays with prison rules, there are no rules. You are too scared to call a foul because he gives you that cross-eyed look and you think he’s playing with a gun in his shorts. You always passing him the ball when he is on your team.

Mr. Do Too Much

The guy that takes a hundred dribbles, before passing. Makes no-look passes for no reason, especially when he inbounds the ball after a score. Loves making long passes 10 feet higher than his teammates can reach. Instead of a straight easy layup, he has to add some jelly.

Mr. Fat guy

Somehow manages up and down the court. Only shoots threes with consistency and unlimited range with someone in his face. Everyone knows what he’s going to do but can’t stop him. Can pass. Is smart doesn’t try to dribble much, only with a purpose. Never can steal the ball from, is strong as hell with unlimited range, but shoots once a game.

Mr. Pro

Only playing because of the offseason. Everything goes in and he’s not even trying. Get’s extremely upset about accidental injuries as he doesn’t want to ruin his career. Plays with the not so good players on his team for a challenge. Makes the best player in the gym next to him look like an amateur at best. Someone scores on him players watching go crazy. Everyone tries to pick him up on their team as soon as he walks into the gym door.


Pick Up Basketball Terms

Keeps – After a player score that player keeps the ball to score again.

Got Next – Indicates that a player has the next game after the current game is done.

My Bad – Player admitting to a fault of his own.

Count – The current score.

Iso – Means isolation, one on one.

Switch – Players from the same team switch defensive checks, usually after a screen.

Brick – Shooting and missing terribly.

Help – The player on defense will call help to alert his teammates to help with his man.

Cut – Usually running hard toward the basket to receive a pass.

I got Ball – Guard the guy with the Ball.

What to wear to play pick up basketball?

If you want to be taken seriously wear basketball shoes. If you come to the court in running shoes everyone will know what to expect from you, just by looking at your shoes. The grip on running shoes is terrible, you will be sliding around as if you are playing basketball on ice.

If you are playing indoors, pick up some indoor basketball shoes. You can play outdoor basketball with indoor shoes but on the market, they have outdoor basketball shoes tailored to the concrete surface with much more grip on the shoe and are built tough. Wearing an indoor shoe outdoors will quickly destroy the shoe and grip in a couple of weeks.

Also do not wear track pants, wear shorts, not just any shorts, basketball shorts. Wear a shirt, cutoff preferably. Never wear a jersey with matching shorts, that’s a big no-no. Nobody will be impressed…


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