“It’s not really about looking cool, it’s not really about being the best, it’s really just about having fun.”
On any given week that you may find yourself at a Downtown Girls Basketball pick-up game, you’ll find what the club’s founder, Aria McManus, describes as a fun practice amongst “bad Globetrotters.” But while it may seem like a slight, the description takes on its own sense of endearance for the team and its players.
Downtown Girls Basketball is a New York City-based inclusive pick-up league for female, non-binary and trans people. They gather once a week for low stakes, non-competitive games of basketball. Open to newcomers and people of all skill levels, the goal, is to foster a genuine sense of community and simply have fun. “There’s the ball bouncing on someone’s head or through someone’s legs, and someone takes a dive. It looks almost like slapstick comedy but it’s a lot of laughing, it’s a lot of just being silly and being ourselves.” All the more reason for both teams to go crazy after someone sinks a half-court shot, even if they’re losing by 20 points (it’s happened before). “The vibe is just about having fun,” says McManus.
Seven years ago, Aria, a lifelong hooper and conceptual designer, noticed that there wasn’t a place for women to gather in traditional ways around sport. It was this realization that helped her to create Downtown Girls Basketball as a way to capture the organic spirit of meeting other women with similar creative and work interests for the first time. Whereas previously, she recalls constantly meeting outstanding women in the city through gallery openings, her mutual network or events her friends hosted, she thought “why not translate that sense of interaction into a basketball setting?” So she did.
I think there’s a character to every sport and I think basketball lends itself to being something that people want to be a part of.
By its nature, McManus says that basketball is a sport created with accessibility in mind. “It was created for cities, so lots of people were gathering in a small area and you had to use one ball, many people and there wasn’t a lot of equipment you needed, if any,” she explains. “That really lends itself easily to bringing people together in a city which I think is nice. You don’t necessarily need equipment or even to know how to play to really catch on quickly.”
McManus’ personal history with basketball dates as far back as seventh and eighth grade. “I was really bad, but I met so many people that I really am still friends with today from that team. I remember that spirit that we were able to create where you didn’t care about winning or losing. You could have a good time and you could really bond with people.”
After the first game where over 30 people showed up to play, it didn’t take long for the team to grow rapidly in popularity. “I think there’s a character to every sport and I think basketball lends itself to being something that people want to be a part of,” says McManus. “Especially as women, as we get older, sports and especially team sports get a little bit lost. It always becomes about your skill level and not about just having fun, so that’s what I wanted to create.”
As for its core purpose, McManus and Downtown Girls Basketball do well to keep fun at the forefront. “It’s so important to have fun,” says McManus. “Not in every exercise class or every gym I’ve gone to do I feel like I had so much fun, and I think that’s really the crux of why so many people have been coming for so long and why I continue to do it, is that the experience itself is really fun. It’s not really about looking cool, it’s not really about being the best, it’s really just about having fun.”
In New York and want to get involved with Downtown Girls Basketball? You can keep up with the team and all of their latest news @downtowngirlsbball. If you’re looking to support the team, donations for equipment and events are accepted here. Not in New York but still want to get started? Aria says that DIY is the way to go. “I think it’s great to just see other women playing a sport, all sports, so I encourage people to make their own teams and communities that way.” Keep up with the team’s captain and head coach @ariamcmanus.