As the NCAA Tournament concludes tonight with the National Championship game, Erik Crosier offers the only two ingredients you need to achieve your Zen: a ball and a hoop.
America gets a little basketball crazy this time of year. I’ve never been a huge fan of the college game, but it always warms my heart a little to see people so smitten by the sport I love so much.
Being from Indiana, it’s hard not to like basketball. I’ve always said that anyone from my state has at least some level of love for the game. It’s synonymous with the culture, as though it’s in the very air itself, carried on gentle warm breezes blowing through the cornstalks. I could go on at length about this connection between basketball and the Hoosier state, but this recent ESPN article sums it up better. Suffice it to say that my thoughts on basketball are formed around a solid homestate nostalgia.
So that being said, you’ll not begrudge me my belief that basketball is the perfect sport. Basketball is a simple game from humble beginnings. It began in 1891 as an activity to combat wintertime listlessness. Beginnings don’t get much more humble than that. It’s not surprising then that the game’s popularity has continued in humble venues: from inner-city parks to lonely rural communities and everywhere in between, proving also the game’s equality and egalitarianism.
The straightforwardness of the game is inviting. When it comes down to it, the aim of the game is simply to get a ball through a hoop and stop your opponent from doing the same. The lines painted on the court are mostly self-evident and the rules, similarly, are all centered on the basic idea of scoring more baskets than one’s opponent. There are no abstract rules or puzzling aims. It’s all quite logical.
I’ve known folks who weren’t big fans of sports but who enjoy watching basketball. I imagine that’s because it makes sense to them. It’s easy to understand, the game is fast paced, and there are a lot of points scored. In short, it’s fun.
Playing the game is also inviting to the layperson. Shooting a basket really is a form of target practice much like throwing a dart or sinking a putt. It is something everyone enjoys, the simple joy of nailing a target. People who can’t make heads or tails of other sports can enjoy the simple exercise of trying to toss a basketball through a hoop. There’s no special equipment to use; there are no special clothes to wear. As long as you have a ball and you can find a hoop, you’re good to go. Heck, you don’t even need a real hoop or a real ball to enjoy the game. Who among us hasn’t shot a wadded-up paper ball into the trashcan pretending to hit a buzzer-beater to win a game?
Another aspect of basketball I’ve always admired is its versatility. There are infinite variations of the game that one can play, contests like Knockout, Horse, and 21. The game itself can be played with a varying number of participants. You can play five-on-five with ten players, three-on-three, one-on-one, or even by yourself.
Take your ball and find that hoop—you don’t even need anyone else! In fact, playing by yourself can be one of the most rewarding ways of playing. Shooting baskets has a calming effect. There’s something inherently relaxing about watching your shot go through the net. It’s rewarding. Basketball’s high on rewards.
I had a basketball hoop growing up and I have fond memories of shooting baskets by myself: the bouncing of the ball and its familiar ping as it struck the cement; chasing down the plentiful airballs that rolled down the hill and into the cornfield; chapped fingers from spending entirely too much time at this enterprise in the cold.
I wasn’t all that into sports and neither was my friend who came over to play with me sometimes, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that neither one of us had a future in the sport, indeed that neither one of us would even play for our school’s team. For a few brilliant hours each week he and I were gods colliding in good-natured battle. This is the liberating power of the game.
My thoughts on the game are certainly biased and I’m sure that others could write equally stirring tributes to football or baseball or any other sport. In fact, I’d quite like to read such impassioned essays. But for me, basketball is the perfect game: simple, at times coarse, but always beautiful.
Photo: Keoni Cabral/Flickr