The Reebok Sports Club on Columbus Avenue and 67th Street is quietly fielding the most competitive non-summer basketball league in the city, and there’s one team everyone wants to play: Team Zoolander.
That isn’t their real name. They are named, prosaically, Team No. 2. But at some point, the other players in the league realized that Team No. 2 was almost entirely made up of male models and christened them with their new name.
The Reebok Club is one of the chichi-er gyms in the city. George Clooney drops by when he’s in town to work on his jump shot (not bad). And Taye Diggs (terrible shooter) is a pick-up regular. Why not male models?
“So what if you get a black eye?” said Damon Wills, 28, who has posed for Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana and Guess. “That’s what makeup is for.”
The Zoolanders have perfect skin, but they can also shoot, and a few can dunk. They’re in the top half of a league that includes former Division I players, a few with overseas professional experience.
And along with their skills, the models are the only team to bring a cheering section: their hot wives and girlfriends, a few of whom are models themselves.
“We hope they’ll make an impression on the refs and we’ll get a few calls,” said Nathan Kamp, 30, the Team Zoolander captain whom you may have seen, shirtless, in a Gillette commercial.
Give them the calls, the rest of the league says. The other players relish the opportunity to make one of those distractingly gorgeous women on the sidelines realize that she’s settling for an inferior jump shot.
“How do they keep their tans?” The Observer asked Mr. Kamp’s wife, Elizabeth, a freelance makeup artist who was sitting on the sidelines alongside her parents, visiting from Washington state.
“L’Oreal Sublime Self-Tanning Cream for the body and Chanel for the face works best,” she said.
Daniel Jarrett, 26, who has modeled for Armani Exchange and L’Oreal, “doesn’t do creams,” said his wife, Amy, the only model spouse who’s not in the business. (She’s studying to be a math teacher.) “Daniel goes to the tanning salon once a week,” she said.
LAST MONDAY NIGHT, the models took the floor for the opening round of the league’s eight-team playoffs.
To the 20-odd spectators, and the half-dozen women sweating on the treadmills overlooking the court, the contrast between the models and their opponents could not have been sharper. On one side of the court was the unseasonably tan, chiseled musculature of Team Zoolander. On the other stood players mostly 15 years and 20 pounds past their primes, a fact acknowledged by their name: Still Hoopin’.
Though long in the years, Still Hoopin’ can play. They made it to the finals last year and improved this season with the acquisition of James (Speedy) Williams, an aging but still dangerous New York playground legend who has been featured in the movie Above the Rim, Nike commercials and a video game. Led by Mr. Williams and the net-scorching shooting of Terrell Townes, last season’s M.V.P., Still Hoopin’ raced to a 13-0 lead.
Team Zoolander looked out of sync, turning the ball over and giving up too many fast breaks. To be fair, it was the first time in several weeks that all the models had played together. Last week, Mr. Wills was back in Alabama visiting his family for an extended Thanksgiving. And Lucas Kerr, 29, whose ridiculously hard body has been featured in Absolut and Equinox campaigns, has missed the entire season with ankle injuries—due to the perils of the court, not the catwalk.
But more often than not, the models’ absences are work-related. An earlier forfeit—the models were away on photo shoots—dropped them from second to fifth place, which was why they were facing Still Hoopin’ in the first round.
The team also wasn’t getting much of a contribution from the normally steady Merritt Paulson, a friend of Mr. Kamp’s from the gym, who also happens to be the son of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. A few weeks ago, The Observer asked Mr. Paulson if he too was a model. Beaming, he led the reporter to his wife and made him repeat the question. “Tell her what you just asked me—go on, tell her,” he insisted.
Finally, the male models scored a basket. And another. But defensively, they couldn’t stop Mr. Williams and Mr. Townes. At halftime, the models were down 60-27.
MOST OF THE MODELS met on the job. Several years ago, Mr. Kamp and Mr. Jarrett shared an apartment in Barcelona while working shows. And Mr. Wills roomed with Mr. Kerr in New York when they both were represented by the same agency (Metropolitan, though they’re now with Major Model Management).
“We talked, and one of the first things we discovered is that we all played hoops,” Mr. Wills said. Today, they all live in Long Island City; Mr. Kamp and Mr. Jarrett in the same building, and Mr. Wills and Mr. Kerr only a few blocks away.
“There’re actually a lot of models that live in this neighborhood,” Mr. Wills said.
When they joined the league, the Zoolanders didn’t announce themselves as male models. But the word got out.
“One day I was watching TV, and all of a sudden a Gillette commercial came on and there was Nate, shaving with his shirt off,” said Mo Bethea, a professional martial artist who plays in the league.
Mr. Bethea, who often provides color commentary from the sidelines, gave them each nicknames. Mr. Jarrett, for instance, is known as “Brillo Cream,” since his perfectly parted hair never seems to move during the course of a game.
A former N.F.L. tight end playing on another team once taunted them: “You guys must be the prettiest team in New York.”
“They’re too pretty to play defense,” joked another player as Monday’s blowout unfolded.
“Yeah, we get a lot of shit,” Mr. Kamp said. “But it’s all in good fun.”
They’ve earned a certain respect for their all-out physical play, which belies the effete male-model stereotype offered up in Zoolander.
“They play just as hard and physical as anyone I’ve seen,” said L.Z. Granderson, an ESPN sportswriter and member of Team ESPN, in third place entering the playoffs.
In Monday’s game, Mr. Kamp, who is called “Hawaiian Punch” for the tropical shorts he favors, drove the lane fearlessly, crashing into bodies and diving into the partition that separates the two courts. Mr. Kerr plays a similar hard-nosed style, which has earned him the nickname “Lumberjack.”
“I’ve been playing basketball for so long that I’m not going to change the way I play now,” said Mr. Jarrett, the only one of the models who played ball in college (Concordia University in Nebraska).
Still Hoopin’ extended their lead to 46 points. It was a blowout, but the wives, who have become good friends themselves, continued to cheer every Team Zoolander bucket.
“Yeah, Nathan!” yelled Ms. Kamp, rising from the bench as her husband scored on a nifty finger roll, cutting the lead to a mere 40 points. Meanwhile, her parents snapped photos of the all-but-defeated (but still handsome) Zoolanders running up and down the court.
“They never lose the spirit,” said a player from another team admiringly as he waited to play in the night’s second game. “I can’t even get my girlfriend to come watch one of these games. And forget about cheering.”
The referees mercifully stopped the game with a few seconds left. The final score was 120-73.
This was supposed to be Team Zoolander’s year. Previously, they had suffered from a relative lack of size. In this league, to be competitive you need a few players who are at least 6-foot-5. But the vast majority of models range from six feet to six feet, two inches—as do Mr. Kamp, Mr. Kerr, Mr. Jarrett and Mr. Wills. Which is why, this year, Mr. Kamp found a taller model.
Jarred Sper, 28, who stands 6-foot-6, is a fitness model and international face of VO5. But he’s also a legitimate low-post threat and steady rebounder. And his wife, supermodel Sara Stout, was a welcome addition to the cheering section.
“We’ve known his wife for years,” Mr. Kamp said, when The Observer asked him where he had found Mr. Sper.
“His height probably limits him in terms of certain model jobs,” he also said.
Mr. Kamp was digesting the defeat, perhaps already thinking ahead to next year’s squad. Who knows? Somewhere in the world—Milan? Moscow?—there just might be a seven-footer in Versace.