Hoops and Heat: The Strange Fate of the Summertime Pickup Game

The assignment seemed simple enough: Go around town during a scorching summer afternoon, find a regular pickup basketball game, join in, live to tell the tale, then ask those taking part in it what exactly they were thinking.

Not so simple.

Almost all year, night and twilight pickup games are found across Las Vegas Valley. But what about those old-school games for the truly dedicated, in the 3 p.m. heat of the dreaded summer months?

So I decided to ask a couple of guys I figured could give me some answers. One is UNLV senior All-Mountain West guard Anthony Marshall, who was raised in Las Vegas and knows the local hoops scene as well as anyone. The other is my pal Noah Parker, who is exactly the type of player I was hoping to find playing in the summer heat — late 20s, plays four or five times a week, knows where the best pickup games are on any given day.

“For the last 10 years, (outdoor hoops) has been dying,” Parker says of the Vegas scene. “It used to be big because there was nowhere else to play. When they started building indoor places, why would anyone kill themselves and play in that heat?”

Parker, 27, moved to Las Vegas from New York early in his high school years in 1999. Then, he said it was widely known around town that Sunset Park was where the best games could be found. Offering eight old-school blacktop full courts, the competition was good enough for those who played there to casually ignore the cracks in the ground or the rims that might vary in height.

In North Las Vegas, Marshall considered himself just as dedicated when it came to battling the heat.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t have a choice,” Marshall says. “I had to suck it up, take bottles of water and go play.”

Whether it was at a nearby elementary school or park, Marshall can partially credit the hard lessons learned in those outdoor games for making him as tough a player as he is today.

“Playing outside with the older kids, you’d take a hard foul, land on the ground, scrape your arm and just keep playing,” he says.

Now at UNLV, Marshall has 24-7 access to the brand new Mendenhall Center on campus, where most of his work gets put in.

But indoor court access for everyone else has become just as abundant.

More than 30 recreation centers across the Valley have indoor courts. On top of that, other gyms that have sprouted up around town have also become hot spots. Parker said the 24 Hour Fitness located at Pecos Road and Wigwam Parkway is a local favorite.

It’s all led to the action mostly moving inside during the summer months.

So, have we just gone too soft now?

“It feels really good playing outside in the daytime during the fall and the spring,” Parker said. “But you drive by the park now, you won’t see more than, maybe, 10 or 15 people. You’ll never see it.”