The Elbowing Is Real, but the Rosters Begin Online

If you build it, they will come.

So Josh Somers built a Web site — — and they came to Public School 116 in Manhattan on a recent Thursday night, 15 players who took part in what was surely a working man’s field of dreams: pickup basketball, by appointment only.

“With the weather getting colder, it’s hard to find a good pickup game anywhere in the city,” said Mr. Somers, 28, of Brooklyn. “It’s also hard for people to fit basketball around their work schedules, so I decided to create not just a basketball league, but a basketball network.”

That decision led Mr. Somers to six months of negotiations with the city’s Department of Education, as well as discussions with more than 150 school principals and custodians in an effort to secure venues and permits.

“It was a lot of hard work,” said Mr. Somers, a former licensing manager with NYC & Company, New York City’s tourism promotion agency. “But I have an entrepreneurial spirit and really wanted to give this thing a go.”

In August, he began his site, a convenient option for hoops fanatics who now have the option of lugging their duffel bags, seven nights a week, to any one of eight venues in Manhattan, and two others in Brooklyn. “This is pickup basketball, simple, pure sport,” the site tells them. “No refs. No uniforms. No shot clocks. No mandatory substitutions. No team names.”

Since the Web site’s inception, 400 players from all walks of city life have filled out registration forms. On a recent night, two doctors walked onto the hardwood wearing scrubs while an insurance salesman who was waiting to get into the game sat on the sidelines discussing policy rates with Mr. Somers.

Games start as early as 7 p.m. and finish as late as 11:15 p.m., with players greeted at various locations by doormen who hold attendance sheets. The players rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 4.5, for competitive placement, before selecting the time and place they prefer to play. Before one game, which began at 9:15 p.m., Mr. Somers met the players at half-court, separating them into two teams based on a first come, first serve basis. He sent a bicycle messenger to one end of the court, a lawyer to the other.

“I can’t believe something like this exists,” said Robert Brown, a 26-year old financial analyst from Harlem and rated himself a 3.5, or, on the indoorhoops scale, a “solid player,” who doesn’t dominate the game but “shows flashes of brilliance.”

“I’ve played in leagues before and I was always locked in to a time and a place, but when I was busy I couldn’t make the games,” said Mr. Brown, who was lacing up his sneakers just before the game. “This is a lot easier because I can play whenever and wherever, it’s just here, waiting for me.”

The cost for each player is $12 an hour, $15 for an hour and a half and $17 for two hours. In the time-honored tradition of the city’s game, losers sit and late arrivals anxiously stalk the sidelines yelping “I got next.”

“There’s no pressure here, just a lot fun, and it’s a nice way to meet people,” said Darnel Clayton, a 24-year-old radiation technician at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. “This is very organized, but has a real unorganized street-ball feel. I think this is going to be big — I wish I had thought of it.”

Mateo Docci , a 30-year-old law student at the University of Bologna, in Italy, who has taken a semester off to live in Manhattan, said that discovering Mr. Somers’s Web site was like “finding a little slice of my hometown here in New York.”

“Bologna is known as the City of Basketball,” Mr. Docci said. “I have been playing the game since I’m a little boy. I wish we had something like this back in Italy.”

Mr. Somers, whose site receives about 250 hits per day, said, “If demand continues to grow, we will create a women’s group.”

In the meantime, Mr. Somers says that he hopes to secure indoor courts in the Bronx and Queens, and that he envisions a day in the near future when his network expands to other cities in the Northeast.

“Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, wherever it gets real cold in the winter,” said Mr. Somers, as he watched the players run up and down the court. “If I can make this work here in New York, I can make it work anywhere.”

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