As the sun sets over the Arkansas River, the sounds of an unofficial draft can be heard on one of the basketball courts at Gathering Place: The chorus calling “next!” while players from around the city divide into teams. Local high school players getting offseason workouts, ex-college players for whom the game is second nature and local players who have made a name for themselves through word-of-mouth all gather at Tulsa’s newest crown jewel.
As the game starts, a gallery of improvised critiques bounce off the outdoor court. Players who take rushed or off-balance jumpshots hear about it, and it’s noted when someone doesn’t go hard for a rebound. Each player is a constant free agent, playing for a spot in the next game because the only way to guarantee playing time is to win.
Each new player is a mystery, slowly unveiling who they are with each shot. Towering men who choose to live behind the 3-point arc instead of using the genetic gift they were given to hold court in the paint, wiry teens in glasses with unexpected explosiveness and hustle, and veterans who use jump shots so unique and efficient that they can only be crafted from an underlying confidence forged by time.
With all the new that Gathering Place has brought in its first year, the unexpected home of an old tradition in Tulsa might be one of the best gifts given to the city.