Minor Leagues is Slate’s pop-up blog about kids’ sports.
Horse lacks essential aspects of real basketball, like running, defense, or dribbling, but contrary to popular opinion it is not merely a contest of shooting skill. In fact, a full 60 percent of horse—let’s say the O, the R, and the S—is mental. Sure, you can hit that unguarded shot in your own backyard. But can you hit it with every opponent watching and judging you, with the game on the line? And what if it’s not a real shot, but some kind of stupid or crazy trick shot that no one would ever attempt? Talk about pressure! It’s the closest most of us will come to having a play drawn up for us in a Game 7.
Sadly, horse is on the lowest rung of the hoops totem pole, and folks who play it are often kicked off the court when those who want to play a traditional version of the sport come along. Horse enthusiasts only have one recourse against these pillagers: challenge them to a game of horse for squatting rights. Because your opponents play actual basketball, they will be at an advantage due to their experience making traditional jump shots. They will try to drag the game down to their level, but you must not let them. The following five shots are perfect for breaking down the psyches of non-horse players. Use one shot for each letter, and watch your opponents crumble.
H. The Granny Free Throw
It takes a single cradled attempt from between one’s legs to realize that this silly shot is probably more accurate than any normal free throw. While someone who attempts it during a real game would get laughed at, horse represents the only time one can do the ol’ Rick Barry in a competitive scenario without becoming the butt of many jokes.
Of course, the shot puts you at no real advantage in horse, as your opponents will find it remarkably effective and natural as well. They will keep this to themselves, however, as no one wants to be known as a granny-tosser. Like all good horse battles, it is a test of self-assurance and pride.
O. The Reverse Layup
Few basketball moves are more balletic than the reverse layup.
When attempted by civilians, however, reverse layups are rarely graceful. Few normies have the vertical leaping ability or the necessary hang time to effectively float from one side of the hoop to the other, and a layman’s layup tends to look less balletic and more like someone unsuccessfully retrieving a box of winter clothes from a high shelf.
No matter how lame and flat-footed it may be, someone’s reverse layup always looks better in his or her own head than in reality. This is what makes it a perfect tool of psychological warfare. Take a cellphone video of your opponents attempting a reverse layup and show it to them. Humbled, they will question their basketball ability as their self-confidence crumbles.
R. The Baroque Bank Shot
Of course if you’re going to win horse, you need to master the bank shot. But the little preamble explaining all the compulsory facets that are to accompany an upcoming horse shot is so delightful, why not extend it? OK, I’m starting on the elbow, two dribbles, around the back, bank off the glass, gotta hit right above the square. Got it?
By virtue of having the floor and issuing a lecture, you will appear powerful and in control to your foes. You were merely a weirdo taking granny shots before the game. Now, you are an orator in the mold of Lincoln. Your opponents, awed and respectful, follow your instructions with immense care but miss the shot.
S. The “Sightless” Swish
Inspired by Cedric Ceballos’ blindfolded slam from the 1992 Dunk Contest, the key to this move is to be able to see perfectly fine. If you squint and bring your cheeks as close to your brow as possible, your eyes will look like they are firmly shut even if they happen to be open a smidge.
Like Ceballos, you really have to sell your supposed blindness. Wave your arms around like you are looking for a light switch and talk to a wall as if it was your opponents. When you make the shot, they will think you to be a conjurer of magic whose telepathic skills are equal parts dangerous and inspiring.
If they don’t believe you, feel free to get into a 20-minute screaming match. You might wear them down to the point where they’ll just let you play horse.
E. Half-Court Heave
If you sink this desperate toss, you will surely saddle your foes with the final, crushing letter. Even if you miss the mark, they will most likely try the same shot during their own turn. Half-court shots are addictive; it really is impossible to take just one.
This is the kind of low-risk, time-wasting proposition that makes horse so great. After all, if you were serious about winning, you’d be playing a real basketball game.