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The People's Courts

Pickup games at Venice Beach and Laguna Beach have some great atmosphere ... and rosters

July 07, 2006|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

New York has its legendary playground basketball spots -- the hardscrabble courts at Rucker and "The Cage" at West Fourth Street in Manhattan.

Southern California?

We have the beach, where, on any given day, the problem putting the ball in the basket is less the defender in front of you than the tricky ocean breeze at your back.

The courts at Venice Beach and at Main Beach in Laguna Beach attract some of the most competitive street ball players around.

At Venice, visitors both domestic and foreign are attracted to the courts made famous by the 1992 movie "White Men Can't Jump," starring Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes as a couple of basketball hustlers.

"That's how I heard of it," said Eric O'Connor, a visitor from Scotland who was watching games from the bleachers on a recent afternoon. "These courts are legendary."

Surrounded by palm trees, tattoo parlors and Muscle Beach, the four regulation-sized courts at Venice draw dozens of players at almost any time of day, with the better players taking center stage on the weekends.

"There can be a lot of showboating, but once somebody gets up the games get serious," said Trevor Wilson (not the former UCLA player), who visits the courts several times a month. "Nobody wants to be waiting hours to get into the next game."

About 60 miles south, the two half courts at Main Beach in Laguna Beach draw a wide range of players.

On the "A" court you might find former Lakers and Clippers center Sean Rooks. "B" court games are for the novices.

What attracts each category of player is obvious -- the scenery. The courts are a full-court pass from the ocean and spectators toting lawn chairs or beach towels stretch out over the nearby grass or sand to watch the games while sunbathing.

Among those who have been spotted on the courts: former NBA players Norm Nixon, Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper, and current star Shaquille O'Neal.

"The scenery is incredible," Rooks said. "You name a person and everyone has played there at least once or twice. It's fun, competitive basketball."

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Street ball, but not on the street

There are plenty of places to look for a pickup basketball game in the Southland, particularly on the weekends. Here's how to find three of the best spots, and how they rank.

DREW MIDDLE SCHOOL

* Location: Corner of Compton Ave. and Firestone Blvd. in South Los Angeles.

* Game days: Weekends.

* Courts: Regulation full court inside a gymnasium.

* Rules: Games consist of four eight-minute quarters.

* Scene: Constant noise, if not from players trash talking, then from music blaring from loudspeakers during breaks in the action.

*

VENICE BEACH

* Location: Beach side of Ocean Front Walk, just west of Venice Blvd.

* Game days: Daily; best games on weekends.

* Courts: Four regulation full courts.

* Rules: Games to 11 by ones; a basket from beyond the three-point line counts for two.

* Scene: Eclectic beach, so Harrelson and Snipes, were they to return, might hardly get noticed. On busy days, losing teams may have as long as a two-hour wait for a rematch.

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MAIN BEACH AT LAGUNA BEACH

* Location: To the beach side of Pacific Coast Hwy., just south of Broadway (Hwy. 133).

* Game days: Daily.

* Courts: Two half courts. Best players on court "A"; novices

on "B."

* Rules: Games to 11; all baskets count for one point.

* Scene: Cooled by ocean breezes and surrounded by sunbathing spectators, players nevertheless whine too often about fouls.

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JONATHAN ABRAMS Los Angeles Times

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