In nearly all things, I am a moderate.
I have voted for Republicans and Democrats. I drink, but not to excess. I exercise but I’m not a fanatic about it. I go to Church, but not every Sunday.
In one thing only do I have a radical opinion – a position so outside the mainstream that I am looked upon with disdain. Strangers inch back in mute disgust and friends wonder if I harbor other immoral and dangerous beliefs. This disdain is accompanied by the fervent hope that I will not preach my heresies to convert them to my satanic ways.
You see, in pick-up basketball, I believe in Losers Out.
Street Sports: Mimicking the Real Game
In all pick-up sports, you modify the rules of the actual sport because you lack the necessary players, equipment, and/or playing surface to play by the official rules.
The most common baseball modification, used in Whiffle ball or stick ball, is automatic rules (ground ball past the pitcher is a single; line drive past the oak tree is a double; Eismann’s roof is a homer). You play automatic because you can’t put fielders on every base.
In football, it is common to replace line play with a Mississippi-count and to replace “10 yards for a first down” with “3 receptions for a first.”
And in basketball, the ingenious solution for a smaller group is the half-court game. Upon rebounding the opponent’s shot, a team must bring the ball “back”, generally to the free-throw line or beyond the arc, to re-set the court, as if you are now taking the ball the other way.
But what if one team scores?
Here’s where pick-up ballers veer from the real rules. In real basketball, after a score the ball goes to the other team, who inbound and take it the other way. In other words, Loser’s Out. Every full-court basketball game in the world is played with “Loser’s Out” rules, from the NBA to CYO, from the Olympics to Intramurals, from Harlem to Hong Kong. Even pick-up full court is played Loser's Out.
But in half-court, for reasons nobody has ever been able to explain to me, we play Winner’s Out. After you score, you get the ball again.
This is an obvious perversion of the real rules and one that is easily avoidable.
I have asked many people why they believe in Winner’s Out. First, I get the same look I’d expect from the folks at Augusta National if I suggested they switch the Green Jacket to a Lavendar sweater-vest. Then, they sort of stammer out that it is the way it is done, the way it’s always been done, and begin to wonder how such a person as I had found his way to the courts.
When pressed for some practical reason to play Winner’s Out, for some explanation as to why the real rules are perverted, all they can come up with is, “When you score, you deserve a reward.”
This is not without precedence in sports. In football you are rewarded with more downs if you achieve some yardage. In baseball you get more at-bats if you keep getting hits.
But in basketball, Kobe has to run back on defense after hitting a shot. We should mimic that in street ball.
In addition to staying true to the rules of the game, there are practical benefits to Loser’s Out. Well, one anyway: it prevents blowouts. A 21-19 game is always more fun than a 21-6 win, even for the winners. But Winners Out naturally lends itself to blowouts
So I will continue my crusade for Loser’s Out, even if I’ve already failed in my own Sunday morning game. But I will do so with faith that progress is being made. For in my own research for this piece I learned that Hoop It Up, the largest half-court basketball organizer in the world, plays Loser’s Out.
They don’t call it that, though. This is from their Rules & Regulations:
No "Make It Take It":
The ball changes possession after each scored basket.
In addition, wise souls that they are, play "Everything Back". Don’t even get me started on that…
Editor's note: The eagle-eyed copy editors out there will notice I've switched back between Loser's Out, Losers Out, and Losers' Out. That's because they are all equally valid and I can't decide which one is correct. Hopefully William Safire will weigh in on this important question.