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Wastebasket Ball

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Basketball at work? It sure beats work at work.

Karen: That bathroom is disgusting. When's the last time you cleaned up in there?
Brent: I think you might have used the men's.
Karen: Don't guys know how to aim?
Wanda: Ugh, gross. I don't wanna hear that.
Karen: No, I mean it. There were crumpled up paper towels all around the trash. Guys can't aim!

Crumpling up a piece of paper, and attempting to toss it into a wastebasket across the room without getting up is deemed a sport. Failure to get a basket will often derive many comebacks and general bad attitude that can follow a man or woman around.

In fiction, the competency of the thrower is often directly proportional to how well that character does at other things.

Most of the time there will be a pile surrounding the basket of missed previous tries. If it's a literal waste basket, you can see more inside, unless the character is really a terrible shot.

Often shown as a part of a Writer's Block Montage.

This is also, of course, Truth in Television, to the extent that one can buy miniature backboards and nets to hang over the bin.

Compare Office Sports and Blind Shoulder Toss. Office Golf is the equivalent for executives with nothing to do.


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  • A commercial for Geico opens with a businessman throwing out a rejected document this way... only for the tossed piece of paper getting intercepted by Dikembe Mutombo. Apparently, blocking free throws makes Mutombo almost as happy as Geico customers saving on car insurance.
  • A recent ad for either NCAA basketball or the NBA features various people from all walks of life pretending to throw an object into a goal at the buzzer.
  • Prodigy dial-up internet had a series of "before they were famous" ads, one of which featured NBA star Larry Bird working the paint counter at a hardware store. He wipes his hands on a cloth, tosses it at a trash can, makes the shot perfectly, and smirks as if to say "Hey, wait a minute..."

    Comic Strips 
  • The August 24, 2020 Drabble strip has Norman attempting this. He yells "Kobe!" while making the shot, but misses. note 
    Norman: I though if you yelled "Kobe", you always made it.
    Ralph: Kobe didn't teach us to always make it. He taught us to keep shooting, even if we didn't.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy's Big Picture Show: Near the beginning, Edd attempts to write a farewell letter to his parents because of a scam Gone Horribly Wrong. He throws out his failed attempts by folding the papers and stacking them neatly in his wastebasket.
  • Monsters, Inc.,: When Sulley points out a flaw in Mike's plan to get rid of Boo, Mike crumples up the paper he was writing on and tosses it into a wastebasket overflowing with flawed plans.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the film adaptation of 25th Hour, this happens after a guy correctly calls a stock-changing event.
  • In the film City of Angels, in the middle of surgery, an assisting nurse is sitting reading a Who magazine. He tosses it for a solid three points into a big bag marked "Biohazard materials".
  • The film The Cutting Edge has the ice-skating male lead do this while negotiating with the female figure skater's father over being hired on as her partner after the father misses three times.
  • The Daredevil movie has one of those little basketball hoops hung over the wastebasket. The blind yet supersensitive Matt Murdock always dunks it, and the comic relief sidekick, Foggy Nelson, can never manage it. It doesn't stop him from saying "swoosh" to try to convince the blind guy that he made it, however.
  • In Iron Man 2, the Holographic Terminal that fills Tony's work station allows him to pick up a floating program window, scrunch it into a ball, and throw it in the Recycle Bin, which immediately announces "SCORE!"
  • Comes into play at the beginning of One Crazy Summer. After we see that "Hoops" is not a very good cartoonist, he plays the trope by throwing away the crumpled up drawing. A couple dozen such crumpled papers surround the wastebasket which is completely empty. Apparently, Hoops isn't much of a basketball player either.
  • In Primer, Abe and Aaron are seen playing this as part of a Time-Compression Montage prior to their trip back in time.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has a humorous variation, in which the title character tosses a package backwards over his shoulder into a trash can. As the DVD outtakes demonstrate, it took Michael Cera thirty tries before he got it right.
  • In Semi-Pro, Ed Monix misses the wastebasket while being introduced as the team's new captain.
  • In Singles, Janet tosses paper towels into the garbage can as a way of deciding whether to call her neglectful boyfriend Cliff.

  • When Susan Sto Helit of Discworld does this, she never misses. Sometimes, the basket will even move to make sure the paper ball goes in.
  • This leads to Bob Lee Swagger's realization that the man the FBI thought had committed the crime couldn't have done it in I, Sniper.
  • In the novel The Man Who Never Missed, the title hero makes his reputation by tranq-darting several thousand enemy soldiers with a tiny personal firearm, each one with a single perfect shot. In the last scene, after the hero has retired and opened a bar, he makes a paper-ball-and-wastebasket shot — and misses. It is revealed early on that his reputation is a careful construct, and that he has missed a (very) few times.
    "Only eight times. It's still amazing." Khadaji heard grudging admiration in his voice. Then Venture said, "But The Man Who Only Missed Eight Times doesn't have quite the same ring, does it?"
  • In Orca, Kiera breaks into a defunct bank to collect clues its corrupt owner might have left behind. Most of what she salvages consists of crumpled-up balls of paper, which had slipped behind the furniture in the owner's office, presumably over the course of several days' Wastebasket Ball.
  • In the first Red Dwarf novel, Rimmer decides that, if he can get do this first time with a paper towel, this means he will pass his exam. He doesn't. So he decides that if he can do it three times in a row this cancels it out, and not only will he pass his exam, he will have sex with a beautiful woman. He achieves this by standing directly over the bin. And then he gets hit in the face by a nuclear blast.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Done in an episode of 7 Days, which Frank used as part of him letting everyone know he was stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop.
  • On Corner Gas, Karen mistakenly uses the men's bathroom and complains that "guys can't aim". Wanda assumes she's referring to men aiming their pee and is grossed out, at which point Karen elaborates that there were crumpled up paper towels littering the entire area around the trash can.
  • In an early episode of ER, John Carter loses a bet with Doug Ross, and his buttocks have to be the backboard for Doug's wastebasket.
  • In a ninth season episode of M*A*S*H, Potter tosses a crumpled piece of paper into his wastebasket with a half-hearted "one" after writing a letter to a young boy about his attempt to break the unit's free throw record.
  • In Monk, Stottlemeyer is playing this when his wife's camera crew come in, in an angle that doesn't allow them to see the actual wastebasket. He misses, says "swoosh" and Randy pretends he hit it.
  • Tony often does this on NCIS. He is either freakishly amazing (scoring repeatedly from across the room, over his shoulder, without looking) or terrible (hitting everything — and everyone — except the basket) depending on which of his coworkers he is trying to annoy.
  • Sam and Callen do this a lot on NCIS: Los Angeles. At least once, Hetty makes sure they're actually using waste paper and not fresh paper.
  • Spoofed in Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide. The episode "Elections" has Ned trying to get himself out of the running for Class President. His last attempt to do is to attempt a food fight... by tossing his trash into the recycling. Seth, the sport guy, thinks that Ned thought of a "cool way to recycle" and convinces everyone to toss their recyclables like Ned did.
  • In The Office, Michael pits his staff against the warehouse workers in a game of basketball, under the assumption that by having a black man on his team (Stanley) it's a shoe-in. We then see a brief segment of Stanley tossing a ball of paper, completely missing. Kevin, the lazy fat man, on the other hand, does the same thing, and makes it. It's a bit of foreshadowing, as later on Stanley sucks at the real game, and Kevin shoots hoop after hoop once the game is done, never missing a shot. This was all performed in real-life, as Kevin's actor is a skilled basketball player and sunk seventeen shots in a row (The camera does not record all of them, as they had no idea he would actually make so many).
  • Scrubs:
    • In the episode "My Best Moment", when all the characters are reflecting on their best moment in medicine, Dr. Cox remembers a time he was trying this, when he saw a woman choking. He performed the Heimlich, whatever she was choking on flew out and landed in another patient's mouth, he performed the Heimlich again, and it went right in the basket.
    • In "My Quarantine", the Janitor loses badly at this, betting ridiculous amounts of money with Dr. Kelso.
  • The staff of Sports Night often played garbage can basketball on slow news days.
  • Superman: A bored Clark does this in an early episode of Lois & Clark when he and Lois are stuck sitting around waiting in an office — except he uses his super-breath to cheat. When Lois turns around, he converts his super-breath into an innocent whistle.
  • The West Wing:
    • Interesting take on this episode "Faith-Based Initiative". A basketball is left on C.J. Cregg's desk as a joke in response to recent internet reports about the skills she had as a high school basketball player (really these are an attempt to call into question her sexuality). C.J. easily sinks the actual basketball into the trash can while sitting behind her desk.
    • In "Evidence of Things Not Seen", the staff's poker game devolves into a card-tossing contest after somebody throws away the joker from all the way across the room. (They move into the press briefing room to try aiming for different seats and are in there when someone attempting Suicide by Cop fires three shots at the window, one of the main plot points of the episode.)
  • Occasionally, Mulder does this on The X-Files. There's a hilarious blooper of David Duchovny trying (and failing) many times to try and get the ball of paper into the trash can. His response: "I hate this game."

    Video Games 
  • There's an app for that.
    • Several, actually. Paper Toss, Catch It, and Toss It are all examples.
    • Paper Toss: World Tour deconstructs the trope by stating in their lore that the Player Character was fired from their job over their excessive paper-tossing habits. Whether it was related to poor work performance or harassment is unknown, however.
  • And a website.
  • Murder in the Alps: When Dr. Ralf Sachs is trying to work on a poliomyelitis vaccine in the opening cinematic of Grey Nature, he overfills his wastebasket with crumpled up notes.
  • There's an achievement in Touhou Luna Nights for tossing a soda can into the waste basket near each vending machine in the game.

    Web Videos 
  • Freeman's Mind 2: When Gordon encounters the infamous "Pick up that can!" Civil Protection officer, he mistakes the officer's attempt at denigration for a request to demonstrate his "famous" can-throwing skills, and he promptly takes the can and sinks it into the trash can from a good ten feet or so on the first try.
    Freeman: You know how many sodas I drank in college? Seriously, I'm the master. [stops walking and looks around] Hey, was that on camera? No... [resumes walking] I could have made that shot blindfolded. I'm not even joking. I've thrown thousands of soda cans. I got my degree under the tutelage of Dr. Pepper.
  • KateModern:
    • In the episode "Anything can happen on Halloween!", Gavin does this repeatedly. The bin in question is strapped to the head of Lee Phillips, work-experience boy and resident Butt-Monkey.
    • Inverted in the animated segment of "Sinking In", when Lee attacks by launching balls of paper out of the bin on his head with explosive force.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Arthur episode "April 9th", Arthur's father David tells him a story from his youth about how he feared for his mother's safety when she was in a car accident, and how he used to throw crumpled paper into his wastebasket for luck when she left the house in her car. He later realized that he had nothing to worry about when she came home safe one day when he forgot to do it.
  • The old live-action/animated Saturday morning TV show Drawing Power had a cartoonist with a basketball net set up over her waste basket, where she throws the crumpled-up piece of paper from her drawing board into.
  • A variation of the trope is seen in Family Guy where Stewie uses Brian's Cone of Shame as the wastebasket.
  • King of the Hill: Hank Hill once tried this with a wrapper from a slice of cheese; he missed, and when he went to retrieve it, his kitchen floor collapsed (thanks to Dale deciding to dig a "secret tunnel" between their houses).
  • The Simpsons:
    • One episode sees a veternarian do this with a hamster's corpse.
    • This is a plot point in the Documentary Episode "22 for 30," which details Bart's brief career as the star player on Springfield Elementary's basketball team. His hitherto-unseen knack for the sport emerged when he was forced to serve an unusually lengthy detention during which throwing crumpled paper into the wastepaper basket from his desk was his sole source of entertainment for countless hours.
  • In the Sonic Boom episode "Role Models", Sonic and his friends do this with the wrappers from their food at Meh Burger. Chumley, Lady Walrus' infant son tries to do the same with his bottle, but misses the trash can. Lady Walrus sees this and reprimands Sonic and his friends for being bad role models... just before she says she's going to find a precarious ledge for Chumley to play on.
  • Lois Lane does this in an episode of Superman: The Animated Series. Later in the episode, when she has to get a chunk of kryptonite into a lead cup, it ends up being a useful skill.