Rob Athmer spent a recent Saturday afternoon on his porch in Northeast Washington. He already had chalked plenty of team logos on the sidewalk with his 3-year-old daughter and read many sports stories online, but those activities couldn’t fill the void. His weekends just haven’t been the same.

In the corner of the porch was his Spalding Neverflat basketball. Athmer’s usual Saturday pickup games were canceled, which meant the ball has been cast aside in a flower pot.

“It’s just sitting there. It’s doing nothing when it should be in a basketball gym bag in my car, ready to go to Turkey Thicket [Recreation Center],” said Athmer, 32. “That’s where it should be.”

As the novel coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe, it upended professional sports leagues and disrupted events. The NBA season is suspended, Opening Day has not arrived in Major League Baseball, and Olympic athletes are recalibrating for a postponed Tokyo Games. But the impact is also felt by people such as Athmer — a high school math teacher and hoops addict who finds joy in weekly games of pickup basketball.

With indoor gyms shuttered and outside courts cordoned off with yellow tape, pickup players have lost more than the game.

Some, such as Athmer, who moved to the District a decade ago and felt connected only when he joined the Department of Parks and Recreation league, have lost their community. Others miss the camaraderie and brotherhood they found on the court. And some — such as Farrukh Saleem, whose love affair with basketball began in Milwaukee — have lost their escape.

“Where you say sports can break down barriers and all of that, it really started to be true in my case,” said the 49-year-old Saleem, who now lives in Maryland. “By being able to show I can play basketball, just like everybody else, kind of allowed me to assimilate better and not be that: ‘Who’s that strange brown guy in our school?’ ”

Saleem’s story resonates with many of the Muslim Americans who have played with him since 1997. He began organizing a run from a network of friends and friends of friends. Over the years, more than 150 people have taken the court with him on Sunday mornings at Paint Branch High in Montgomery County. The regulars get nicknames. There’s “Captain Pakistan,” “Charmin Soft” and “ImRon James,” though Saleem isn’t a fan of that one. “He’s nothing close to that,” he said. “I don’t think anyone should compare themselves to the King.”

On the court, Saleem, who also captains a long-running game on Wednesdays, does not have to carry himself as the mild-mannered husband, father of two and IT professional. He transforms into “Kooky Farrukhy,” the nickname his friends gave him after watching Saleem slam his head against a cement block wall after he missed a shot or unleash one of his not-safe-for-work rants.

“It’s where I’m allowed to basically become a sailor and throw out every single f-bomb that I want to throw out and release every emotion that I want to release,” Saleem said.

Saleem, the self-proclaimed old guy of the group, doesn’t know how many games he has left. He has a bad back, creaky knees and sore feet. This isolation, he suspects, is trying to force him into early retirement. Saleem respects the social distancing mandate in Maryland, but with his basketball life in jeopardy, he’s longing for the court.

“It’s so part of our DNA and so part of our blood. We can’t live without playing every Sunday,” he said. “With this whole coronavirus thing … of all the things we’re dealing with work and family, I guarantee if you ask the 10 guys, not playing basketball is probably the biggest hit we’re all feeling right now.”

Make no mistake: Players aren’t missing pickup games for the quality of play. Although many amateur ballers drop hundreds of dollars per year just to rent an indoor court, their games mirror basketball at its most primitive. Players walk back on defense, athleticism is optional, and there’s always that guy, such as Dylan Osborne, a 25-year-old police officer in Roanoke, who jacks up too many bad three-pointers.

Whenever he had time, Osborne would make a nearly three-hour drive to a church gym in Lebanon, Va., to play in a 6 a.m. pickup game that ran three times a week. But amid the spread of the virus, the church and its gym have closed. These days, he has been passing time by binge-watching guilty pleasures with his wife.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been watching the ‘Tiger King’ on Netflix,” Osborne said. “If you want to waste about eight hours of your life, it’s entertaining but it’s — ummm.”

Osborne misses the relationships more than anything. Before every run, players would gather at midcourt and hold hands. Not everyone attended church, but they all would bow their heads.

“At 6 o’clock on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday, you can guarantee we’re going to pray over your families, we’re going to pray for everybody there,” Osborne said. “They’re A-plus type of people.”

There is a sense of belonging through the shared experience of pickup basketball, in which strangers become teammates and teammates become friends. In Denver, several players have become closer than that.

Corrigan Blanchfield graduated from the University of Virginia and in 2017 moved to Denver, where he couldn’t find a full-court game. But about two years ago, he stumbled across an outdoor court at the corner of East 18th Avenue and Humboldt Street, and little by little, others showed up there every Thursday after work to join him.

These guys have become something of a family to Blanchfield: the “Ball” family. When he gets a player’s contact information, Blanchfield adds them to his phone with their first name and “Ball” listed as the last name. There are now 12 “Balls” in his phone.

“There’s a group chat with … a guy from Montana. His name is Tom. We love him, and we hang out all the time,” Blanchfield said. “I’m still not sure of his last name.”

Although Blanchfield doesn’t know some of his sports friends’ true identities, he knows their appetites. They have a weekly tradition: Thursday night hoops, followed by $6 all-you-can-eat wings. Tom “Ball” goes for Buffalo sauce; Nate “Ball” favors dry rub.

“We’ve eaten plenty of wings together,” Blanchfield said. “[I] can’t wait for Humboldt.”

But the wait continues. The outbreak has stretched on, and gyms and courts are eerily vacant, shut down by a virus that has taken lives and doesn’t care about basketball.

Athmer hasn’t been in his sanctuary, Turkey Thicket, or played with his crew in weeks. His Bunker Hill Bulldogs — named after his street and his family’s pet — consist of a public defender, a radio engineer, a doctor who lives in Northern Virginia and several teachers from his school, Columbia Heights Educational Campus. A couple of the guys have shredded their ACLs. Athmer spent nine months on the sideline with a torn Achilles’. But they always come back for more.

“I don’t know what I would do if I ripped my Achilles’ and said, ‘Ah, I can’t play anymore,’ ” Athmer said. “It’s part of my D.C. life now. Every Saturday, that sacred Saturday, I’m going to play hoops, and if that was taken away from me, part of my District experience is taken away from me.”

Athmer, his voice quickening, wondered when the day will come when he will pump air into his ball and sneak into a playground.

“I’m getting antsy right now thinking about it because we’re not playing for the foreseeable future,” he said. “I’m missing it."