Saturday, July 26, 2014 5 AM. I roll to Chinatown after driving all night to find a cozy little parking space across from the park to catch a few hours of sleep. Left with a bike and a bag, my ride disappears as I begin to wander. Luckily I stumble into a Chinese bakery and grab what I think to be a donut and mosey on down to the pit to watch people practice sword fighting and feeding pigeons. Before I am fully awake the first player rolls in. Now I almost don’t recognize him with a derailleur, two independent breaks, and backpack of brooms. I introduce myself and we talk for a while as there is very little cleanup or preparation to do. Soon after they are arriving in packs and the first game is underway very quickly.
A small history
There have been 6 previous ESBI (East Side Bench Invitational) with none occurring last year. The teams attending are Boston, DC, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and 2 New York’s (Alpha and Bravo). The Previous champs, Richmond, were unable to attend. Clubs may bring any number of players, but may utilize a bench of 9 maximum each game. Scoops are allowed.
Interviews with the team captains go well and provide me a good insight to the plans of the captains and their clubs. I learn Pittsburgh and Boston have very thin rosters consisting of as little as 5 or 6. For Pittsburgh this is attributed to their club size while Boston was bad timing. Having visited Boston a few weekends ago I found this strange that of the dozen players I met there is only one I can recognize here. The low rosters are seen by their captain’s optimistically as an advantage as there are less changes, lineups, and management to do. There are also several ringers (who all turn out to be wicked awesome) from Canada and Lancaster. I am also invited to play but decline to avoid bias and embarrassing everyone with my world class skill (ok maybe to avoid embarrassing myself). Instead I take administrative roles of sometimes timekeeper, statistics keeper, and referee. Statistics keeping I am very pleased about as it is both new and superb in learning every single person’s name.
Most games Saturday are decided by no more than five points which was quite surprising to me. Most cities are surprisingly well matched. The flow of the teams is smooth for the most part with unfavorable lineups are quickly worked out by the captains. I also notice the connections between certain players (example: Nate and Zac of NY Alpha) are insane. The true strength of the 3v3 game is in these connections. In bench it is having those connections with a manager that knows when and how to implement them. But laughs are had on and off the court and I get a good vibe from all the players. This seems like a more serious series of city vs city pickup games.
A few small issues occur Saturday as well. Mostly players forgetting helmets, some tardiness, lack of whistles, and magical dicks kept reappearing on the scoreboard. Only one major issue is a disagreement between referee and player. This was caused by the rotation of referees and the differences in enforcement. Having dedicated referees is a must have for every competitive tournament. Also Chombos slide whistle (http://youtu.be/Qa7uLxu0XAc) while hilarious did not make the players stop.
The most interesting match of Saturday is New York Alpha vs Philadelphia. This game remained within one point the entire first half. Second half begins and there are no point for 10 solid minutes. The atmosphere of the game adopts a much more serious tone quickly.
NY Alpha Philly pulls off the win but it’s clear if a rematch happens Sunday it will be the hot ticket and there is no clear favorite.