I always called it Utah. That’s what my dad called it. My dad is 6-foot-4. He played college basketball. I have never beaten him. He told me the game that other people on the courts called “21” or “roughhouse” was called “Utah.” I felt he was the authority.
In reality, nobody but him called it Utah. Wikipedia doesn’t even list that as an option, calling it “twenty-one” primarily but accepting “cutthroat, hustle, tip-it, noyceball, roughhouse, scutter, rough, or rebound.” Some of these names don’t even seem right to me! “Tip-it” seems to be more like “taps,” a different, non-roughhouse game where there are teams and players shoot threes and others try to rebound. And, I mean, noyceball? What the hell is that? There would usually be some confusion at the start of a game of 21 or roughhouse (not Utah) about what the game was called, if it had different rules as a result, et cetera. Sometimes this was part of the fun! Sometimes it ruined the game before it even started.
But as an adult, I generally don’t play roughhouse or 21 or taps or even my favorite basketball variation, knockout. I just go shoot hoops. And I thought everyone was on the same page with this one, until I watched the new basketball movie Hustle last night.
Hustle is the new Adam Sandler project; he plays a scout recruiting players in Europe. Sandler’s character, Stanley Sugerman, works for the Sixers for much of the movie. Yes, the movie is basically a variation on Rocky; it even contains one of the longest Rockyesque training montages I’ve ever seen. Many of the actors are simply professional basketball players, and their acting is fine. Maybe it’s not that hard for Juancho Hernangómez and Anthony Edwards to play basketball players, or maybe acting is just easy. I dunno. I liked it.
But one thing bothered me throughout the movie, and still bothers me. When Sugerman is in Spain to scout a basketball player, he learns the kid is still hurt. He then asks a simple question: “Is there a place around here I can shoot some hoop?”
Shoot some hoop? Just one? Is he going to take one solitary shot? My wife, who is not a sports fan, said the phrase “shoot some hoop” sounded as off to her as calling it a “basketball ring.” (Obviously the phrase is not wrong. James Naismith, the sport’s inventor, used peach baskets, and primarily calls it a “goal” in his autobiography. “Hoop,” though, was in vogue by at least 1910. Naismith calls basketball “the hoop game” in his book.) I cannot figure out when the phrase “shoot hoops” became popular, but I at least thought it was just that. Shoot hoops. Shoot some hoops. Plural.
Now I’m not so sure. The lyric sites don’t agree, but I listened to it 10 times, and in Eazy-E’s “Boyz-In-The-Hood” he says “shoot hoop.” Perhaps the “S” is simply left off so it can rhyme with the word “scoop” in the previous verse. Fine. More research needed. I asked around today to all the basketball players I could find. Nobody would admit to saying “shoot hoop,” but many claim to have heard it. Nobody was really bothered by it. I am unclear how prevalent the phrase “shoot hoop” is, but I suppose it’s OK. Now let’s get back to arguing about what 21 is actually called.