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By Noah Masterson

AUGUST 17, 1998:  Every year since moving here, my friend Greg and I have discussed entering the annual Hoop-It-Up 3-on-3 basketball tournament. And every year we've flaked, opting instead to sit around watching television and drinking beer--until this year.

Hoop-It-Up is a basketball tournament that tours the country every year. It's sanctioned by the N.B.A., and winners in the Top Gun division (the highest) go on to compete against winners from other cities. The national championships are televised on NBC sports.

Our team registered in the Couch Potato league (the lowest), and we thought we had a fair chance of winning in our division. The team--which we named the "Friendly Goats" after my initial suggestion of the "Weekly Alibisexuals" was shot down--consisted of myself, Greg and two of my roommates, Isaac and Andrea (each team is allowed a substitute). We also brought along a suit-and-tie-wearing coach to carry a clipboard and scream profanities. None of us had much formal playing experience, but we could all shoot the ball and talk shit about our opponents. Two of us even own Air Jordans. And after we mapped out a few defensive maneuvers (French kissing after every point, making monkey noises), we figured the Couch Potato title was as good as clinched.

Our first game (every team is guaranteed at least three games, no matter how badly they stink) was at 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday. The night before, one team member--and the coach--stayed up drinking until dawn. The rest of us subscribed to similar mental readiness techniques. By game time, we were like coiled springs of raw athleticism. We were also still kind of drunk.

We strutted onto the court, expecting to greet competitors of similar ilk. We found three giant androids, effortlessly dunking and sinking 30-foot baskets. Our attempts at small talk were met with steely glares. Their team was neither co-ed--as ours was--nor Couch Potato; something was horribly wrong.

Hoop-It-Up games are won by the first team to reach 16 points, or by whoever is ahead when 30 minutes have passed. Teams earn one point per basket; two from outside 20 feet. We lost our first game 16-1, with Greg scoring our only point. Toward the end, our opponents' moods improved just enough to point at us and laugh.

Beaten but not broken, we plodded to the court where our next game would commence. The Friendly Goats were one of nearly 1,500 participating teams--surely we could be paired against players with similar abilities, players who were better at shuffling cards and quoting obscure movies than shooting hoops. It was statistically unlikely that we were the only team who viewed Hoop-It-Up more as an opportunity for performance art than spirited competition. But if there were other teams like the Friendly Goats, we never saw them.

We took an early 5-2 lead in our second game. Something about the way with which we scuttled randomly around the court confused our opponents, and we got lucky with a few shots. Soon enough, the other teamed wised up to our dadaist ball handling and wiped the court with us. Final score: 16-8. At least they were nice about it.

The next morning, we finally won a game. It didn't hurt that the other team failed to show up. Feeling like winners, we proceeded to the final game of the tournament.

Our opponents in the final game were reminiscent of the first androids we played, only taller and meaner-looking. They were registered in the Competitive division--two steps up from Couch Potato and only one below Top Gun. No Hoop-It-Up representative we spoke to could explain why this occurred. Naturally, we were slaughtered, though I did foul a lot and score five points.

Still, even after being soundly beaten by three separate teams, the experience was some of the most ridiculously good fun we'd had in years. Despite the tournament's glitches, Albuquerque is fortunate to be one of the stops on the Hoop-It-Up tour.

Our team will be back next year. There's already talk of monster masks, superhero costumes and cheerleaders. And maybe next time, there will be other teams who play as badly as the Friendly Goats.

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