Basketball is ingrained in Utah culture

By By Nick Pappas

By Nick Pappas

If you ask the average Joe outside the state what he thinks of when he hears the word Utah, the answer would likely involve something about Mormons and the latest episode of “Big Love.”

There’s a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building on every block here and they all have one thing in common8212;no, not a crescendo of crying babies every Sunday.

I’m talking about basketball courts.

I’ve played on every kind in the state. There are the carpeted courts that make the ball bounce twice as high and never in the same angle. There are the cramped courts where “walls are out” and half the strategy is avoiding stacks of chairs on the sidelines.

At stake centers, the courts are beautiful hardwood full courts with backboards that mechanically rise. I’ve had many moments where we managed to get some keys to the church only to find the hoops were some 30 feet in the air.

I’m not sure about other religions, but basketball must be somewhere in the Doctrine and Covenants here.

The courts are used for weddings with streamers thrown through the hoops, church plays where 8-year-olds dress like shepherds, and overflow seating for those really popular missionaries on their way to a two-year stint in Brazil.

When the chairs are cleared though, I’ve been in some of the best games of my life.

Church ball gets a bad rap8212;playing against other wards and having a referee seems to bring out the worst in players. The games I’m talking about are played at 9 p.m. and go until midnight. All the church buildings are locked, so the keys are a hot commodity for local ballers.

Have you ever noticed at Runnin’ Utes basketball games when “shoot for cash” is played during time-outs? Just about every weird-looking white guy will make the layup, free throw and 3-pointer before the buzzer.

This is indicative of Utah basketball culture.

Whether you’re LDS or not, anyone in the state with an ounce of athleticism has found his or her way onto the Lord’s hardwood. I’ve played everywhere. I’ve played pick-up games throughout California. I’ve found my way into a few games during a work trip to Miami. The players are always impressed by the skills a Salt Lake City upbringing has given me. If you enjoy playing ball, count yourself lucky to live in the state of Utah.

The Jazz are a perennial playoff team because they are the most fundamentally sound in the sport. The pro game is emulated here, with young kids learning how to pick and roll like John Stockton and Karl Malone8212;or nowadays, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. Put five random guys from Utah against five random guys from New York City in a gym and I’d put money on the Utahns.

Like the LDS Church, basketball is just ingrained in our culture. With so many courts within blocks of each other, you can’t help but learn how to square up from the 3-point line.

You probably think I’m completely out of my mind.

Well, there’s only one way to prove it. Anyone have some keys?

[email protected]

Nick Pappas