What is Pickup Basketball and How Do You Play it?

Key Takeaway: Pickup basketball is an informal and fun way to enjoy the game with friends or strangers, allowing for flexibility in rules and game formats. It provides a casual yet beneficial opportunity for players of all skill levels to practice and improve their game without the pressures of official competition.

Ah, pickup sports, one way or another we all played it. Some of us would through our hockey sticks into a pile and picked teams, some of us played rumble fumble, but we are here to talk about pickup basketball.

Pickup basketball is truly just a fun way for some friends, teammates, really anyone to get out and enjoy the game they really love! Sometimes total strangers will just play against one another just for a good time, the thrill of the game, and some friendly competition.

If you are just getting into the sport at any age, pickup basketball is a great way to learn the game. But what are the ins and outs of pickup basketball?

What is pickup basketball?

Pickup basketball is obviously a non-professional or non-league game, not recorded or part of an official league. That being said, some groups are pretty organized that have pickup leagues or something like that, but that’s not what we are here to talk about. Pickup games are typically just when a group of players just want to play for fun, practice, or even just get some exercise.

What does pickup and play mean?

Pickup and play generally means a sport that you can just try and play without any barrier to entry. This is a game where you can instantly play, where you can easily start and have a massive barrier to play like cost or equipment. For pickup basketball you really just need a basketball, hoop, and a few friends. Pickup basketball doesn’t keep stats, standings, or anything like that.

That being said, some groups are pretty organized that have pickup leagues or something like that, but that’s not what we are here to talk about. Pickup games are typically just when a group of players just want to play for fun, practice, or even just get some exercise.

How do you play pickup basketball?

Pickup basketball can be played anywhere, on any court, and sometimes you don’t even need a basket. It is typically used in non formal settings or during basketball practices, sometimes even between friends or enemies. It has also been the point of contention in a movie or two in the past!

What is sort of nice, or not nice, about pickup basketball is that they don’t have referees. This gives players more room and the ability to make their own calls, no third team out there on the court. The whole point is for it to be informal and allow you to show your skills to friends, teammates, family, anyone, and not be judged if you make a mistake as its all for fun! Most of the times.

Pickup basketball is a fantastic way to learn the sport without the pressure of doing it on an official team. You play it basically as you would a regular game of basketball, but you get the enjoyment of possibly being outside and not having to worry about referees, mistakes, or peeving off a coach. Prepare to have that one guy call foul on everything though.

Pickup basketball unwritten rules

Since there are no referees or officials, there are really no rules for pickup basketball. Pickup basketball doesn’t really have set rules, rules are determined by the players. These rules can include and exclude fouls, full court or half court, things like that. Those rules are determined by the groups of players playing the game. That being said, there are a few unwritten rules of basketball.

The first is that you should not be overly physical like or anything like that, everyone is out there to have a good time. You also do not want to over do it and embarrass someone, again this is for practice and for every to have a good time.

The most important rule is to keep up the sportsmanship, make sure everyone is having a good time and keep the confidence up! If you do get smack talked, it’s part of the game in any sport or competition, just make sure you can dish it and take it. Other than that, it’s a pretty easy game to play if you just stick to the rules. Be a team player.

Pickup basketball terminology

When it comes to sport specific slang, basketball has its own terminology for just about everything.

Shoot for teams” means you take three points to determine what team you are on.

Check up” is when the game restarts after a foul or anything else that would stop play.

Win by 2” is when the  game is determined during a tie and a team has to win by 2 points.

Straight up” is when the game is not determined via win by two.

Pass me the rock”, I think we all know what that means.

The best way to learn the terminology or slang of the game is to play the game and use your surroundings, but those are the most basic ones you will use here.

How do you win pickup basketball?

It sounds simple but outscore the opponent. It all depends on the game you and your opponents decided to play! When it comes to score, that is totally up to the participants. Players don’t typically set time or shot clocks, they usually pick a score (typically 15 or 21) and that’s what they play to.

One of the more common methods is playing till 11, 11 points that is. This is when a score from inside the three-line counts as one , and one on the three-point line counts as two, first to 11 wins! It’s pretty simple and you keep the score yourself. The score to win usually varies by how many people you play with.

How many players can play?

Games can run from 3v3, 4v4, or full on 5v5. In 2v2 games, players typically play half court. In some situations, you may even need to shoot threes to get into a game! In larger groups sometimes the losers get knocked out and the winners move on to play someone else, but it all depends.

You can play 1v1, but that is entirely up to you. In these situations, you can really improve your offense and defense guarding just one person not having to worry about a pass. The real answer is anywhere from 2 to 10 players.

Benefits of playing pickup basketball and how can you improve?

It may be a little complicated to put, but the benefits to playing pickup basketball really depends on you the person. For basketball players, whether college or high school player, pick up basketball is a great way to warm up or practice.

If you are older or noncompetitive (not playing in a league) it is a great way to get some exercise. Basketball is one of the best sports you can play for your cardio and hand eye as the game is never moving. The nice part about playing pickup basketball is all of ease of accessibility for a court. That’s a big benefit as that most of the time you don’t need to pay to get some exercise. Some ways that you can improve your pickup game is by doing sprints or any general cardio.

Another way you can improve is by taking some time out of your day and walking around the neighborhood with a basketball or even going to a court and shooting free throws. There are so many little things like changing your diet, but the best thing you can do is just practice and practice to improve your game.

What to wear while playing pickup basketball?

Dress for the job, don’t wear a football jersey or something like that, you want to dress properly when you play any sport. You are going to want to wear loose fitting clothing, basketball shorts (goes without saying).

You want to wear clothes that are going to stay on for sure, but you don’t want to wear something that is going to totally restrict your movement, dress like Michael Scott in the office without the hair cut! If it is cooler or cold out you can wear any form of long sleeve shirt with a thermal or something underneath, dress in layers.

Avoid hoodies but a sweatshirt might suffice. Don’t wear tennis shoes or skates shoes, wear the proper footwear to play basketball, we have talked about this before. Running shoes are okay for casual pickup basketball, but if you are going to play hard or more competitive, wear basketball shoes.


Pickup basketball is one of the best parts of the basketball subculture, and truly is a game that anyone can play regardless of skill level. Playing it can not only help improve your scores in the actual game, but also help improve your health if you aren’t playing competitively. It is a simple game to pickup and play, depending on the people you play with and the amount that you play with.

The cost to play pickup basketball to is minimal as you really only need some old clothes and decent pair of shoes, basketball shoes preferred. It really is the perfect way to the learn the sport and get your heart pumping at the same time!

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