If you can picture a scrawny, wild-haired 9th grade girl in oversized shorts, panting on the sidelines of the shiny basketball court, you can conjure up an image of me over a decade ago, wondering how in the world I ended up there. I was at tryouts for the JV basketball team, despite never having played a single day of organized basketball in my life. I naively believed that as a track athlete, I had the kind of athleticism that just needed to be guided by a firm but caring coach into excellence (like Blind Side!); the coach disagreed. Coach Murray gently told me to "Practice and maybe try again next year." Since she was also my geography teacher, it certainly made things a little awkward during 3rd period, but she was right. I had no business out there; so why was I?
Because I love basketball. Always have and always will. My earliest basketball memory is from the Chicago Bulls dynasty era. At that age, I followed my dad everywhere and whatever he did, I wanted to do. This particular Finals Season, I was watching the game with my dad and his friends. He proudly bragged to his buddies "Crys Cross is my girl; she won't fall asleep - she can hang." I have never fought sleep so hard in my life. In the end, I think Jordan, Pippin, and Rodman outlasted me, but I will never forget that series. I loved basketball then because my dad did.
But as I've gotten older, I've begun to view even the simple things I innocently enjoyed as a child more critically. Yet the more I learned about basketball, the more I respected it. Which brings me here:
Basketball is not only my favorite sport - it's also the most American of all sports. Here are five reasons why:
1. Basketball is more accessible than most sports (excluding soccer). All you really need to play is a hoop and a basketball. Compared to hockey, golf, and even football, basketball has a pretty low barrier to entry. What's more American than equality for all?
2. Basketball championships truly allow for the best team to win. As a Carolina Panthers fan (well sorta), I will never forget the Super Bowl of 2004, which in my opinion is the one we should have won. I remember thinking "Why can't we just do best of 5?" But that's not how football works. None of this "It at first you don't succeed, try, try again." It's a wrap and you're stuck hoping you can rebuild the magic next season. Not so with basketball. The playoffs series style (which admittedly is present in other professional sports), truly weeds out fluke wins and ensures the best team really does win. No whining allowed at the end about bad calls.
3. Success in basketball requires a unique hybrid of both individual and team success. (Ask Kobe) While football truly requires a unified team effort, and baseball can offer hope with a singular strong pitcher or hitter, basketball is a game where you need both. You need stand out individuals like Lebron James, Michael Jordan, and (I grudgingly say this) Kobe, to win a ring. But Lebron needed Wade, Jordan needed Pippin, and Kobe needed Shaq (at least at first). It's the perfect blend of teaching America's proud sense of rugged individualism as well as the mantra "There's no I in team."
4. Basketball is a true melting pot. More than any other professional sport, the NBA hires players and staff who represent an ethnic diversity that mirrors America's gumbo. 53% of its head coaches are minorities. 17% of its players are international athletes. 78% of players are African-American.
And speaking of diversity and inclusion....
5. Basketball is often the first of American sports to change for the better. a. This past August, the NBA hired the first female full time assistant coach of any professional men's league.
b. The NBA is the first professional men's league to hire permanent female referees.
c. One article said of the NBA's advancement of women: "Even women who end up working in other sports have basketball roots."
d. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports gave the NBA an A+ for racial hiring practices, higher than any other men's professional sports league.
e. Adam Silver's swift and absolute condemnation and forced removal of Donald Sterling -the (ex) Clippers owner who made racially insensitive remarks in a private phone call- is a strong contrast to NFL owner Dan Snyder's promise to never change the Washington football team's name which also happens to be racial slur. (By the way... the NBA has a history of changing offensive names; there are young Wizards fans who don't even know they could have been Bullets fans).
f. The first openly gay active professional male athlete in the U.S.'s four major sports came from you guessed it... the NBA. Although the NBA couldn't really facilitate that, Jason Collins' ability to come out does say something positive about the environment that the NBA has nurtured.
And there you have it. Baseball may be America's pastime, and football may dominate in ratings, but basketball is truly the real apple pie of American sports.
So am I right or am I right?