A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

What I love about the game of basketball

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While I am a sports nut across the board, it’s not a coincidence that this blog is starting at the start of basketball season.  Basketball’s my favorite sport, and obviously I’m far from alone.  Being one of the Big 3 sports in the US says there’s something special about the sport, but when you also consider that basketball has translated better worldwide than football or baseball, and that normal people actually play more basketball than those other sports, it becomes more impressive.

To me the coolest factoid about basketball though is simply that it’s often the favorite sport of professional athletes in OTHER sports.  Joe Montana prefers basketball to football for crying out loud.

What makes the sport so great?

Well I’ll start with the practical.  All you need is a ball and a hoop and you’ve got a game.  In the city there are courts everywhere, and elsewhere you can put up a hoop over garage/barn/whatever without too much difficulty.  Other sports don’t have that flexibility to them.  Soccer’s great if you’ve got some space to work with, but not so good in the city.  Baseball can technically be adapted to stripped down version in the city, but you’re always in danger of losing that ball and then the game’s over.  Football?  Don’t be ridiculous.

Of course, not of that would matter if it weren’t such a great game to play and to watch.   For me, basketball gives a much greater feeling of freedom to be creative than other ball-based sports, and I’d say there’s two real reasons:  1) the dribble, and 2) the balance between individual play and teamwork.

The Dribble

By having to constant release the ball in a way where you can be assured it will come back to you, you develop a feel for the ball simply as an extension of your body.  The control you achieve with this exterior object is thrilling to have and to watch.  Soccer has this same advantage to some degree, but the hand of human is far more precise in its control than the foot.  Even the best soccer dribblers look clumsy compared to basketball dribblers.

Secondarily, by forcing the players to dribble the ball, it allows the offense and defense to work against each other in the most elegant of ways.  Comparing with football, and specifically passing football since that’s really what people enjoy watching, there’s no way to allow both the offensive grace and the defensive brutality to co-exist without a long series of arbitrary rules.  For example, a defensive back has to go through 3 different sets of rules on each play over the course of seconds, all depending on where the man he’s covering is, and whether the receiver has the ball.  It’s honestly a tad ridiculous, but such convoluted rules are necessary, because if he were simply allowed to use force all the time, it would be next to impossible to pass the ball consistently and it would kill the sport.

The Balance

As an all around sports nut, I can find something I love about most sports, and about really any genre of sport.  This certainly includes individual sports such as tennis or boxing.  However, something I particularly love about team sports is the added complexities it bring to the game.  When you’re not only having to keep track of one opponent, but many opponents and many teammates, it requires a certain type of genius to really do well that blurs the line between the kinesthetic, the interpersonal, and the visio-spatial.

If you want to see that genius most clearly on display, I’d say basketball’s the sport to watch.  Not because basketball offers up the most complex display of team play, but rather because it hit a minimalist sweet spot.   I’ll pick on football once again, though really I LIKE football, just not as much as basketball.  Football is one leviathan of a game.  Incredibly complex.  I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing, but let’s face it, most lifelong football fans don’t really understand it .  They watch the guy with the ball, and then that’s about it.  The rare super-knowledgeable football devotee will tell you there’s so much going on you simply won’t see it all on television, and even live it’s too complex to fully understand in real time.  It’s so complex in fact, that for the most part, in game decision making has largely been outsourced to the humorless, stationary men on the sidelines, and the players are essentially pawns.  Now, football’s incredibly popular, so obviously it’s doing something right.  However, complexity that isn’t contributing to satisfaction is just noise.

In basketball, there are 5 guys from each team on the court, and for the majority of the time, they’re all close by each other.  Now there’s still a lot going on, but you really can see pretty much all of it.  I’m not trying to claim that the average basketball fans understands it all, but it really is much more intuitive than other team sports with bigger teams.  The signal-to-noise ratio is great, the action is fast and graceful, and the players really are largely thinking on the fly.  If you want to see team-oriented improvisational brilliance at its best, look no further.

Written by Matt Johnson

October 22, 2010 at 7:45 am

Posted in Basketball

Tagged with , ,

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