Rigsketball started as a joke. But, like so many accidental discoveries–penicillin, velcro, beer–there was life before Rigsketball, and there will be life after. Born within the Portland musical community, interest in this inventive take on basketball quickly grew as the pseudo-sport was adopted by the greater Portland community and became a staple of the summer festival season. It was a sport that aimed to ridicule the seriousness of sports, and its unfussy approach worked.
Eight years later, Rigsketball is coming to an abrupt end when the last shot hits the net this Sunday, August 12th, at the White Owl Social Club. “After 8 years it’s time to place Rigsketball in our memories,” Bim Ditson wrote in a social media death post, retiring the game as unceremoniously as it began. But, how did we arrive at the end so soon? In order to understand why this closure is so important, it is best to look back to the inception of Rigsketball and the goals behind it, and remember that all things must pass in the natural order.
Photo // Rochelle Hunter
Back in 2011, And And And’s drummer, Bim Ditson, attached a basketball hoop to his band’s tour van. He challenged another band to a game of three-on-three before a show, and thus were the humble beginnings of Rigsketball. There was no cassette compilation in mind, no aspirations to host a music festival. It had only one aim: to be fun, to do something that was unnecessary for the sake of wanting to do it, without any ulterior motives in sight. That summer, Bim announced he was putting together a 32 band travelling basketball tournament with the van, and he took his rig and his tournament to the streets of Portland. The movement was taking shape but that shape was in flux, and each participant helped steer the course it was on.
That first year saw 32 bands compete at different locations all around Portland. Bim had unintentionally started a constructive fire in the musical community which allowed more connections to be made, bridges to be built amongst performers and audience alike, and a stronger sense of community to emerge.
2012 saw more of the sport as enthusiasm soared within the music community, and further interest continued to grow outside. The rag-tag movement was embraced, with notable early heroes in Bunk Bar (back when they were independently booked by local music community members) and Rochelle Hunter, who helped carry out Rigsketball’s early agenda. Some shows were even booked in conjunction with the games, holding matches in parking lots or side streets next to small venues like Club 21, Tonic Lounge, Holocene, Langano Lounge, Mudai Lounge, and many others. Bands battled on the “court” first, before uniting as one bill for the shows themselves, which–in true Rigsketball fashion–were all rippers. Fun–as intended–was had. That same year saw the release of the first cassette-only Rigsketball compilation, comprised of submissions from all tournament-participating bands. In all, Rigsketball released 224 tracks on their cassette-only compilations. Ditson adds: “That’s all with no digital. The comps were limited, tape-only, physical objects in order to give bands a release that didn’t cut into anything else they wanted to do with the song. Not to mention just protecting them from the devaluing nature of an increasingly monopolised and extractive digital landscape…”
Rochelle Hunter, a self-proclaimed “general cheerleader and organizer and rallier” for the sport, had the following to say regarding the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality that fueled the early years of the games:
“The ethos really spoke to me at the time, I remember Bim and I talking about it back in the day. There was this idea we had that ‘going hard’ on a crazy, dumb idea was way more meaningful and important than putting effort into something that’s easily digestible and makes complete sense. The practice and the process of putting on the events that were 100% produced by and for the community was the important part; we could have had a stand-up comic knitting show-down and the same magic would probably have happened. The point was doing that crazy thing all the way and making it accessible for anyone who wanted to participate. The fact that the whole thing happened with zero money for so long seems insane now, but Rigsketball truly knows no bounds.”
Photo // Rochelle Hunter
2013 started the tradition of hosting the first and second rounds of the 32 band bracketed tournament at the free, all ages, music festival, PDX POP NOW! This brought even more exposure, and it’s annual fixture at the festival became an accoutrement that many looked forward to year after year. Each year the finals would be celebrated by their own Rigsketball Musicfest, – three days of free, local music – as the sport and lifestyle continued to grow and become a solidified part of the Portland summer.
A profile film, following Bim Ditson and Rigsketball, courtesy of Juliet Zulu
I caught up with Bim Ditson at a local coffee shop to talk about the sport, why it’s ending, and even more interesting tangents that threaten to steer this article into the efficiently toiling cogs of Ditson’s brain. We get a booth and begin to talk shop.
“It’s just about bands having some fun. So as long as we’re able to provide a setting for that, we consider it a smashing success.”
The first item that receives further clarification is, Rigsketball is not about Bim Ditson’s band, And And And. It’s not about any one band, or one person; it’s about all of us. It’s less promotion, more participation. And while Bim is both in a band and also organizes the tournament, this is not about him, either. It isn’t really about anything, I learn. Rigsketball represents a notion of carefree amateurism that Bim sees as derivative of early skateboarding culture. Drawing parallels between the two sports, Bim surmises that most skaters are not professionals, but do it for the love of skating. “It’s just about bands having some fun. So as long as we’re able to provide a setting for that, we consider it a smashing success.” As if repeating a mathematical proof there seems to be an inverse relationship between fun and rules. That the more you concretely define something, the less fun it becomes. So, Rigsketball includes its own ground rules yet encourages participants to further define or even break them with each match. In fact it depends on the influence of its participants.
Photo // Michael McInerney
“So much more work than it’s worth. That’s Rigsketball.”
Rigsketball is something that worked because the community supported it. It could not have functioned without it. That concept is particularly closely linked with DIY music scenes across the nation. Bim feels that DIY culture, like skate culture, is threatened by capitalistic end-goals. When outside (non-directly participatory) influences come to play, the scene loses something–it’s trajectory and memory forever altered–as decisions become compromised by the careful plotting and measuring of human experience into a stale lump of marketable metrics.
With the participation and support of so many people, money was kept out of the organization of Rigsketball, and the game never became a for-profit endeavor. Instead, it remained pure, free from outside influence, and operated solely on the energy of those directly involved. Money earned was put towards the next tournament.“So much more work than it’s worth. That’s Rigsketball,” says the founder.
“Portland needs to keep making space for things to happen, hopefully ending Rigsketball makes a little room for something else just as wacky.” says Ditson. A tall order in a forever-developing city, but not an impossibility. Especially if we–as a community–can come together to work toward a shared goal. “You evolve by trying to take part in the next thing, not through mindless repetition. If you’re not surprised by what’s going on in your life, reassess,” quips Ditson.
Photo// Rochelle Hunter
It is important to Bim that Rigsketball retires on his own terms as a pure experience. To allow the concept to die before outside capitalistic influence has the chance to dilute the original intention. Before it ever stops being about fun.
XRAY.FM’s upcoming Heatwave marks the Rigsketball finale. An appropriate stumbling-into-the-finals, All-Star game of sorts, comprised of participants from the last eight years. Three-on-three teams from about 10 or more willing participants that Bim will reach out to by text this week, or perhaps the day-of. There will also be a game of bump for outsiders to participate in and help determine the two teams. Bim’s loose plan speaks again to the ethos of the game’s original concept. Bim sees now as a quit-while-you’re-ahead opportunity to retire the beloved community-supported institution of Rigsketball. To bow out gracefully before it becomes something that is done just because it is an annual occurrence, a repetition of the same, instead of looking for new joy and artistic expression. Before another perfectly good snake convinces itself it is so important that it must start eating its own tail. To retire Rigsketball is to dismantle the structure he helped create and to make room for something else to grow, to make way for the next thing, following the natural order instead of the unnatural cults of infinite growth and immortality. Instead of grieving, he hopes the public keeps in mind that value does not fade when production ends, that those touched by the sport, that those involved both on and off the court, remember it for what it was and take that with them into the future. And that it fucking ripped.
As of now, there is nothing set to take the place of Rigsketball in Ditson’s calendar, and he is looking forward to having a little space to breathe. Inevitably, something will come up, he says. With seemingly loose aspirations to embrace a leadership role, his magnetic personality is ripe for just that, he wants to share a message that usefulness in life is important and quantifying that value can degrade it. That there is no purpose intrinsically linked to art, rather, we come to define purpose through our experience. Being able to work toward that understanding, in Bim’s eyes, “makes death less scary.”
Bim then tells me a parable: Think of that time that you stumbled upon a fantastic restaurant. You have no prior conception of what this food should taste like, and the taste exceeds even your highest expectations. Your enjoyment is compounded with the sense of discovery and the sweet taste of something new. The destruction of that kind of experience is the hidden cost of one of our greatest powers, knowledge, it’s not always worth it. That is Bim’s goal going forward, to continue to stumble and find delight in life, without expectation. And he sees no reason why we all shouldn’t do the same—intentionally embrace the unknown, and notice a better tomorrow, and when you find that better tomorrow, it’ll be gone, but there’s no loss because you never owned it, no big deal.
Photo // Todd Walberg
Want to see the last game of Rigsketball, like, ever? Come to XRAY’s Heatwave this Sunday, August 12th from 2 PM – 11 PM. We’ll see you and your hoop dreams there.