During the early to mid '90s, as hip hop seeped into suburbia, millions of American youths picked up a basketball, sagged their shorts, and started to say things like "yo" and "y'knowhatimean?" I was one of those youths, and that was the last time I played ball in a consistent manner until I reached Chengdu in 2008.
Now in Chengdu, as far as team sports go, a person has two options readily available: soccer and basketball. At any of the myriad of universities in and around Chengdu there are soccer pitches and basketball courts chock full of Man-United and Houston Rocket jerseys. Following the debacle that brought an end to "Tuesday Sports Day" (page xx), I needed an outlet for my desire to play team sport. I chose basketball, and here is why: Soccer is boring, slow, and unimaginative. Basketball is fascinating, quick, and innovative.
After playing ball around town for nearly two years I came up with the three most enjoyable locations to "shoot the rock."
3. Sichuan University Huaxi Campus
Courts are located just inside the Renmin Nan Lu entrance, on the left, surrounded by a chain-link fence. Unlike other university-court complexes this one is in fairly decent condition. On the eight full courts, tilted backboards and bent rims are scarce, and all hoops come with nets. The only objectionable characteristic is that some of the court underneath several of the baskets has begun to chip away, leaving divots ripe for tripping upon.
If one comes early in the morning the only souls around are a friendly caretaker and his wife—though driving onto the court with your e-bike is likely to garner a tongue lashing. Ballers don't tend to show up until after lunch, so if you looking to shoot around by yourself, come early; if not, you're likely to find yourself being asked to join a pickup game. Skill on the court varies from people like me who might be deemed by some as "not horrible" to players who can drain threes at will.
2. Small Hidden Court
Tucked deep inside the Zijing neighborhood atop the "T" of Ziwei Dong Lu and Zizhu Nan Yi Jie is the jewel of Chengdu's courts. The court possesses a sole basket, concrete replete with lines and is enclosed in a 12-foot chain-link fence. The court is kept under padlock during off hours; it opens at 7 a.m., locks up at noon for nap time, reopens at 1, and finally closes shop at 8 p.m. As a part of a small park frequented by Zijing's aged and elderly the court boasts few poor qualities and a quiet atmosphere for play.
In the early mornings the court tends to be filled with middle-aged men playing a classic style of ball with hard checks and an abundance of passing. The later afternoon will see boys from local hair salons wearing black skinny pants and sporting '80s style glam-rock hairstyles chucking balls to and fro. If you're lucky, a couple ballers will rock up and you'll have a game, but my suggestion would be to round up a group of friends and enjoy the tranquility of this court.
1.5 Nike Chengdu Sports Basketball Park
The Nike-sponsored park behind the Chengdu Stadium on Renmin Zhong Lu (Houzimen, north of Tianfu Square) is rumored to be one of the best in town. The courts opened last summer, and there is an RMB10 fee for using them. I haven't been, but a guy I play with believes them to be the best, after the Sichuan Gymnasium courts.
1. Sichuan Gymnasium
It's pretty difficult to miss the Sichuan Gymnasium, given that it has its own subway station, but if you're unsure of its whereabouts, it is the large gray sports complex on Renmin Nan Lu just south of the First Ring Road. The courts are hidden on the complex's western side: If you walk around the building, past the badminton building, around the old women moving in a slow motion and then down a cast-iron staircase, you'll end up at its doorstep. After paying the 10-yuan service charge, you'll have free reign of the complex's three full courts. The courts are what one would expect if you were asked to pay 10 yuan: beautiful court, bright lights, and solid rims.
Bring your game—the people frequenting the gym have skill. There isn't much to say beyond that. If you're a decent player looking to improve or a gamer, the only place in town that combines quality facilities and play is the Sichuan Gymnasium. "Y'knowwhatimean?"