Slam dunks, behind the back passes, fast breaking the ball down the court for an easy two points, the sweet sound of the ball swishing through the net on a three pointer, good natured trash talking; this could be the scene of a pickup basketball game at your local neighborhood park back home. The only difference is that here the trash talk is in Czech and the backdrop behind the court is a block of communist era apartment buildings covered in graffiti.
Basketball has become the sport of choice in Prague during the sunny months of the year when hockey season takes a break. The availability of basketball courts to play on, the cheap cost of equipment (a ball and a pair of shoes), and the rise in popularity of the sport amongst young Czechs and the international set makes it a more regular game to see being played around Prague nowadays.
Once the ball starts bouncing, it is still the same game you can find in Brooklyn, Toronto, Barcelona, Bangkok, or the hoop in your driveway back home. In fact, one of the more interesting things about basketball in Prague is the diversity in cultures amongst its participants.
Francesco Trane, a 26-year-old customer service representative from Mexico City is a regular player in “pick-up” games in Prague and marvels at the international group of participants that he´s met on the courts.
“I have played with British, American, Canadian, Ukrainian, Mexican, Scottish, French, Czech, Italian and Turkish people. It’s cool that each has his own style and you have to be open and to understand others even if some of them don’t speak English. It’s a different way to share something of your culture while on the court.”
There are plenty of opportunities to get out there and find a game to participate in. Just like in most places, all you need to do is locate a court where a game is going on and ask to join. Most times the players are happy to have a new person join in. Some popular spots to find a game:
Nad Ohradou 17 (tram: Vápenka)
– Regulation sized court with foam padded playing surface. Best for players that are able to compete in a high level game. Beginners would have a hard time keeping up. A great game to watch!
Rybalkova and U Havlíčkových sadů (tram: Jana Masaryka)
– Less than regulation sized full court with foam padded playing surface. A casual atmosphere with a mid-level of competition. Occasionally necessary to shoo away small children that like to play on the court in the middle of your game.
Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad and Korunni (tram: Vinohradská Vodárna)
– Half-court on concrete surface. It´s best to bring your own ball and a few people to start your own game. Expect to be joined by local teenagers from time to time. Good fun.
Chaloupeckého 1903/6; nearby Strahov Stadium (bus: Strahovské Koleje)
– Full court on foam padded playing surface. Games are more regular in the fall once the students return to live in the dormitories surrounding the court.
As fall fades into winter the opportunity to play diminishes as the temperatures drop. There are different leagues which are organized that take place at indoor courts around Prague, but these can be elusive to find. One possibility to find an indoor court in the cold weather months is to come to the gymnasium next to the sports center on Nad Ohradou (mentioned above). Your best bet however is to become a regular player with Czechs at the outdoor courts and get invited to play with them when the indoor leagues start in winter.
The Czech Republic also boasts a professional league for those wishing to watch a high level match-up in person. Prague is home to two professional teams, USK Praha (Sportovní Hala Folimanka; Na Folimance 2) and Sokol Vyšehrad (Rašínovo nábřeží 24), both playing in the Mattoni NBL League (www.nbl.cz). While the talent level in the Czech League can´t be compared to some of the more prestigious leagues around Europe, the level is still high enough to keep you properly impressed and entertained. And when the cost of a ticket (40 CZK) is an amount that can be found between the cushions in your couch, you really can´t go wrong. Games start in early October. Plenty of seating available.
A game of basketball is easy to find and easy to participate in around Prague. Follow the bouncing ball and don´t be shy to invite yourself in for a game, even if your athletic abilities have dwindled as your beer belly has grown. A game of “basket,” as the Czechs call it is great aerobic exercise and a wonderful way to make new friends that you wouldn´t have otherwise.