Word on the Street

Points Negotiator (pointz ni-goh’-shee-eyt’-uhr) noun. The player or players in a pickup basketball game who are trusted and allowed to pass judgment on any scoring discrepancies.

Usage example:Many times, older players are given the role of points negotiator.”

Word usage: It never ceases to amaze me how difficult it is for people to keep track of the score during a pickup game. As far as I’ve been able to determine, the whole 1-pointer/2-pointer scoring system was invented for the sole purpose of making it easier to score the games. Despite the use of the most basic math possible, scoring discrepancies occur with ridiculous frequency …and few things cause more heated conflict on the pickup court.

When a scoring discrepancy happens, both sides feel they’re getting screwed. Nobody ever just laughs it off as a simple mistake that can be easily remedied. The interpretation is that points are being stolen, and with the way people behave during the ensuring debate, you’d think the fate of humankind was riding on the outcome. And I’m not even talking about the outcome of the game. I mean who gets to win the argument about what the “correct” score is.

Many times, these disputes are settled by which team screams the loudest or acts the most ready to solve things through a fistfight. Other times, both teams choose to abide by the ruling of a points negotiator. The points negotiator typically is someone who is known, liked and respected by most of the players. As such, points negotiation usually happens in weekly pickup leagues. It can also happen in generic pickup games with savvy players who give off an aura of authority.

Points negotiators are usually older players, the general assumption being that they are wiser and more mature, and therefore better able to think and react logically. This isn’t true whatsoever, but cultural ideology often takes over when conflict resolution is necessary.

Aside from the age factor (which isn’t a constant), a points negotiator must have a reputation for making fair calls most of the time. Furthermore, they should have a history free of being on the wrong side of point shaving incidents. Once a player has bungled the score a few times, they lose all point tracking credibility until player turnover reaches 80 to 90 percent.

Moreover, points negotiators must have the ability to remain calm in the face of conflict. If they start cussing and yelling, the other players will lose faith in their ability to remain logical and emotionally detached from the eventual outcome. A single sneer or chuckle of disgust can appear sinister, which will lead some players to conclude that the points negotiator has some specific vested interest in the final decision. And even though that is often the case, people are often comforted by the delusion of impartiality.

Now this final point is very important. A points negotiator will many times be forced to make a ruling he either isn’t sure about or knows is incorrect. Dubious decisions are made because a points negotiator is, after all, human and might not have been closely tracking the score. Incorrect rulings are made because sometimes the only way to keep the peace is to let a given team have their way, either because they’ve been losing all night or because most of the calls have been going against them. Sometimes making everybody happy is more important than the final score.

Unless you’re on the team that got hosed.

Captain Kirk say: “Stop fighting over points, I have the score.

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Labels: Word on the Street

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