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The most heated competition in the 49ers’ locker room

Aug 28, 2013, 10:36 AM PDT

The San Francisco 49ers may have a roster full of All-Pro National Football League talent, but they are still chasing their hoop dreams.

In most locker rooms in professional sports you’ll see guys spending their downtime playing card games, iPad video games, or doing crossword puzzles. But in the 49ers’ locker room, those things have gone by the wayside, after safety Craig Dahl introduced the mini hoop.

“This is our downtime killer right here,” fullback Bruce Miller said, while looking up at the hoop. “Craig Dahl put that up. It’s something they had going in St. Louis.”

The SKLZ Pro Mini Hoop retails for around $30, but it has become a priceless item at 49ers Headquarters in Santa Clara.

Between practices, workouts, film study, and meals, various groups of players migrate to the back of the locker room to toe the line of tape planted on the carpet and take their shot at glory with a palm-sized black rubber basketball.

It sounds silly, but it’s serious business.

Colin Kaepernick can be seen strolling out of the lunch room just to step to the line for three shots before departing to handle his other responsibilities. Patrick Willis can be seen watching on the side as guys compete. Even Frank Gore gets in the mix, though he might secretly dislike the wildly popular hoop, as it is positioned just feet from his locker, where an errant shot could catch him while he’s minding his own business.

“It’s just a fun way to get some lively action in the locker room,” Dahl said.

There are alley-oops, blocked shots, swishes, bricks, misses, and most importantly laughter and team bonding taking place at the approximately 7-foot-high hoop with a 49ers sticker pasted to the backboard.

Wide Receivers play with the defensive backs that cover them, running backs can be seen having fun with the linebackers that stop them, members of the team that wouldn’t normally spend a lot of time with each other are mingling, smiling and laughing together. And those that aren’t playing can often be seen standing around and watching.

With the pressures of succeeding in a grueling and competitive sport with looming cuts and potential trades, the mini hoop is the perfect distraction. Just don’t ask who has the best shot. It’s an unsolvable quandary, as each competitor has a different answer.

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