Word on the Street

First Night Superstar (furst nit soo’-puhr-stahr’) noun. A pickup baller who plays extremely well during his first night at a pickup league, but whose performance drops off significantly on subsequent nights.

Usage example:Man, remember how good that guy was when he first showed up? Now he sucks. I guess he was a First Night Superstar.”

Word history: I coined this term a few years ago at my weekly pickup league. I couldn’t help but notice that many times a new guy would totally clean up on his first night and then quickly devolve into an average (or below average) player. I think this happens for a few reasons.

First off, players tend to try harder and focus more when they’re unfamiliar with the court, their teammates and their defenders. Many new players desperately want to make a good impression, so they’ll hustle, take good shots, avoid bad passes, crash the boards, and so on. However, comfort tends to lead to complacency (at best) and laziness (at worst). So after these guys become accustomed to their surroundings, they often stop hustling and rebounding and start forcing up junk shots and making careless passes.

Secondly, defenders sometimes take a “wait and see” approach with a new player. After all, you don’t necessarily want to scare the dude off on his first night. Furthermore, it’s impossible to tell whether someone is going to snap and start a fight the first time they take a hard foul or get caught by a blindside pick. Then too, it can be hard to stop a guy before you figure out how good he is and where he likes to shoot from.

But eventually the defense will catch up with the newbie. After people start to learn his game, they figure out how to slow him up or shut him down. This can happen pretty quickly since most pickup ballers have only one or two go-to moves and/or pet shots. I mean, if someone always jukes right, dribbles left twice and then pulls up for a 15-footer …well, the effectiveness diminishes pretty quickly.

If the new player is genuinely skilled, the league’s top defender (or defenders) will be dispatched to break their spirit. And other people will step up to provide quick help, because nobody wants a new guy to show up the regulars. My buddy Mister P …again, refers to this stop-the-noob phenomenon as “feeding them their rookie cookies.” One Wednesday night, a new guy came out and torched everybody with long-range three-pointers. (By “long-range” I mean triples taken four or five feet beyond the arc.) At one point, I was on my way to the drinking fountain when I overheard him asking if there was any “real competition” in the league.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to play against him again that night. But the next Wednesday, I dropped the hammer on him. And so did everybody else. Defenders were up in his face, and everybody jumped out on him on picks. You could tell he hated it, and he became increasingly frustrated as the night went on. I don’t think he hit a three all night. And he never came back.

It’s worth noting that the increased defensive intensity usually slackens over time, usually after the new guy’s focus and intensity returns to “normal” levels. Then he and the other players settle into a comfort zone that rarely changes. Until the next new guy shows up.

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Labels: Word on the Street

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