Clash of the Titans LXXVII: Basketball

April 11, 2008, 12:00 pm; posted by
Filed under Debate, Mike J, Tom  | 1 Comment

In this corner, supporting basketball, is Mike!

And in this corner, opposing it, is Tom!

Those who dislike basketball need to meet my wife. I\’m 6\’3” and she\’s 5\’3”. I\’m stocky and she\’s, well, slight. (At least she was before she was pregnant, but that is not the point of this story nor is it particularly wise to say.)

When pressed to choose, most assume that I was the high school basketball player in our home. After all, I\’m a fair shooter and a middling rebounder. But I was not the high school varsity player ”” she was.

This is because basketball is the most egalitarian game one can play. A $10 basketball and a neighborhood court, YMCA, or high school gym, and you can play. No bats, no helmets, no pads.

There are no height requirements; there are advantages to being small and quick, and advantages to being a giant though slow afoot. There are advantages to being able to shoot 30 feet from the basket, and advantages to banging around under the hoop.

Basketball also can serve as a language when words will not do. I spent seven summers working as a camp counselor at a local YMCA in a small, economically depressed city near my home. Though my charges were near-universally of a different color from me, though we spoke differently and had different heroes and role models, basketball was a way I could communicate with them. Whether it was a standing challenge to beat me in H-O-R-S-E or running five-on-five with local high school kids, it was a way to fit in, a way for my ideas and being to be taken seriously, a way to break down barriers between us.

Perhaps basketball could even help President Bush\’s much-maligned foreign policy. A game of 21 with Kim Jong Il? Around the World with Kofi Annan? One-on-one with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper ”” if we win, they have to take North Dakota; if they win, we have to take Manitoba?

The possibilities are endless ”” thanks to basketball.

A sporting event is a contest, a pitting of self against other, in which there can only be one champion. The players are combatants, playing through pain, injury, and weather to bring the battle to a close. But not so basketball. No, organized basketball is most often played indoors, protecting its mollycoddled players from the danger of sun, rain and wind. A polished wooden floor and sterile fluorescent lighting lend a bleak aura to the basketball landscape.

The Mayans in pre-European America had a similar sport. But their hoop was vertical, their court was outdoors and there was no use of the hands. Any child can toss a ball through a hoop with their opposable thumbs, but try doing so with a bounce off a hip. Combine that with the imposing physical nature of basketball’s ideological predecessor and you have a sport worth playing!

In contrast, modern basketball players are kept apart throughout the “struggle,” the least physical contact resulting in a foul. They trot up and down the court like so many braided-maned polo ponies, either bouncing the ball against the ground while they prance or limply slapping at it in an attempt to jar it from another’s control. The observed proper technique for these slaps leaves the wrist hanging as limply as the decorative nylon netting that hangs, streamer-like, from hoops at either end of the court.

These aforementioned hoops separate basketball from true sports of the people. Without the resources to find a tall pole with an attached hoop of metal, a young person cannot practice this loathsome pastime. But any enterprising youth can find a stick and a ball, improvise some bases, and have a rousing game of baseball. Likewise can be improvised a soccer pitch, with markers delineating the goals’ width and a spirit of good sportsmanship their height. The only firm requirement for these sports is space.

From the super-short super-tight shorts of the 70s to the ridiculously baggy ones popular today, basketball has long acknowledged its status as court jester in the kingdom of sport. Yes, basketball remains true to its roots: slapdash construction of a peach basket with a hole in it, dreamed up by some Canadian to give his students something to do when it was too wet to go outside and play a REAL sport.



1 Comment to “Clash of the Titans LXXVII: Basketball”

  1. Erin on April 15th, 2008 11:41 am

    Really – Manitoba? I think we’d have to give up more than just North Dakota.

    Also, in the spirit of basketball: Rock Chalk Jayhawks!!!!!

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