It is one of the grandest theaters in American culture, a place possessed by tragedy, heroism and fate. Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and Lebron James are all descendants of the playground game which was forged on the asphalt in New York City, Detroit and Chicago in the early 1900s. Forget the peach baskets, the YMCA and Springfield, Mass. Visit the playground today and you’ll see that James Naismith’s original concept has as much to do with today’s game of hoops as Ford’s Model T has to do with the Ferrari.
The playground game, once a drama acted out anonymously in America’s ghettos, has become a multi-million dollar business. Tournaments today are sponsored by shoemakers and record companies, and these contests have branched out from the inner-city into the suburbs and onto the farms. Pickup Artists examines how the game has developed since it’s earliest incarnation at the beginning of the 20th century, and profiles the best street players in the country—from New York to L.A.; from the farms in Indiana to the women’s leagues in Philly. All these players are bound by a common thread: They shine brightest and burn hottest on the playgrounds.