Michael Kasdan remembers Philip Seymour Hoffman for that brilliant pickup basketball scene from Along Came Polly
I’ve had many conversations about Philip Seymour Hoffman since his untimely death last week. To me, he was one of a handful of actors who we can honestly put in the class of one the best of our generation. His roles in diverse films including as Scent of a Woman, Boogie Nights, Almost Famous, Capote, The Master, The Big Lebowski, and Moneyball are a testament to his unparalleled versatility.
But for better or worse, when I think of Hoffman, I think of Along Came Polly. I think of his portrayal of Ben Stiller’s well-meaning, goofy, and decidedly unathletic buddy, Sandy, as they shoot hoops and play an ill-fated game of two-on-two playground basketball.
Last year I wrote a short piece, about the meaning of pick-up basketball and why we play, called Pickup Basketball: One Man’s Look Inside the Game. It mentioned that scene:
Pick-up basketball. It is fluid elegance. It is speed. It is a perfect blend of guile and athleticism.
But let’s be honest. Most of our pick-up games aren’t Rucker Park ball or the kind of street-ball on display in White Men Can’t Jump. Sadly, for many of us – and particularly as we get a little bit older- our games evoke a style that is more in the vein of Along Came Polly‘s Philip “Let It Rain” Seymour Hoffman than Wesley Snipes’ “It Is Hard To Look This Good.”
That is to say, this is not necessarily a graceful game. It can be slow. There is a dazzling litany of injuries; ankles, knees, backs, achilles, hamstrings. And the next day, it sometimes seems, we’re a few steps slower still.
* * *
We play for the camaraderie. We play for the competition. We play to feel good. We play to feel ourselves. And by playing together, we learn each other.The defenses come down. There is joking and ribbing. But we also talk. We talk about our families, we talk about our jobs, we talk about our lives. In short easy bursts. Camouflaged by an orange ball.
The pickup basketball scene from Along Came Polly is funny as hell. And it is a wonderful demonstration of Hoffman’s range. By blending over-the-top smack talk and bravado that is wholly disconnected from lack of basketball talent with heart-to-heart guy-to-guy advice, it also perfectly captures the dynamic of pick-up basketball among friends.
“Let It Rain!”. . . “Pick and roll!” . . . “Outlet” . . . “White chocolate” . . . “Raindance!” . . . “T. T. Time-out. I’m burnin’.”
A brilliantly executed caricature of pickup basketball. In all its sillyness and glory.
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/On Location In Los Angeles