I love basketball, absolutely love it. If you told me all the other sports were going to be abolished tomorrow but I could pick one to save, it’d be basketball and it wouldn’t even be close.
Stateside and elsewhere basketball is huge, and it’s growing fast in other countries, but here in the UK, it’s not quite as popular as it should be. Hopefully, by the end of this article you’ll have a fresh appreciation for the game, and with any luck, you’ll want to pick up a ball and go find a hoop.
First, let’s just get the misconceptions out of the way.
You don’t need height to play ball, yes being tall is an advantage in this sport, so is being quick. After all, you’re either born with it or you’re not, you can’t coach height or speed. Though there’s at least one Van Gundy just dying to prove me wrong there.
Being naturally tall or fast help, but it doesn’t preclude you from playing or being good at the game, I’m 5”11 and can hold my own against taller players no problem. Those of us who aren’t 7ft tall Olympic sprinters can succeed by getting good at handling the basketball, spot up shooting also known as jump shooting, passing, reading the court and directing an offense. Typically, players with this skill set play at the guard position, known as either the 1 or the 2.
You do need good hand-eye co-ordination however and having two left feet certainly won’t help you be agile on the court when dribbling the ball. The nice thing about these skills, they can be practised, honed and refined. If you work at them, you will improve. Ok with that out of the way, let’s begin.
One player can absolutely make a difference, more here than in many other team sports.
Basketball is played with either 3 or 5 players on the court at any given time, depending if you’re playing in 3 on 3 or 5 on 5 leagues
Due to the small number of players, each one has a far bigger role to play than in other sports where you see 10+ players start the game. That’s not to say players can’t impact the game in the 10, 11, 12 person starting sports, but it’s far more pronounced the fewer people you have playing.
Defensively, if you’re playing man to man, one player is assigned to guard another and prevent them from scoring. That’s your one job, stop that opponent right there, that’s it. If you lose track of your opponent, get turned around or if they just go past you, it’s almost certainly going to result in the other team scoring.
It’s also great for all our inner competitive side. This game brings it out in style. As mentioned above, quite frequently it’s man to man defense. One on the offensive side, being guarded by one on the defensive side.
This means you’re often head to head with an opposing player, matched up head to head in a game of skill, speed, dexterity and determination. It’s time to find out which one of you is better, and nobody likes finishing second.
One of the major complaints about American sports in the UK is that they’re too slow paced. They take hours to finish and there are a million commercial breaks dotted in between. All of which is a fair criticism, but basketball bucks that trend.
Played in 4 quarters of around 10 minutes each (the NBA plays 12-minute quarters, college ball is 10), there are very few stoppages and the game flows organically. The clock does stop when the ball goes out of bounds, or when a foul is committed but typically the ball is brought right back into play either through an inbounds play (the team with the ball has to throw it from the sidelines back into the field of play), or free throws.
There’s also the shot clock, a set amount of time within which the team with the ball must take a shot. Fail to take a shot, and you turn the ball over. This means immediately following a score at one end, there’s now literally seconds (24 in the pros, 30 at the college level) before the other team have to attempt to score. In a 10- or 12-minute game that amounts to a whole lotta shots.
It’s like watching tennis but with more players, running and jumping. Less grunting though.
A very close cousin of the fast pace is the excitement of the game. This is a sport where, if you’re watching any of the higher levels, you’ll get to see human beings literally take flight.
If people flying isn’t your thing, how about a sport where who wins or loses can come down to a matter of seconds on the clock and getting off one final shot with the chance to win the game? It happens more often than you think. There’s a reason the NBA’s slogan for a while was “Where Amazing Happens”.
Even playing at an amateur level I can’t count how many games I’ve been a part of that have come right down to the last possession. It’s pure elation when you see yours or your teammates shot go in right as time runs out, and heart-breaking when you see your opponent do it.
It’s a Great Workout.
Forget just running in the street, pick up a ball and hit the court. You’ll work out far more muscle groups than just your legs. Your arms, core and shoulders will all get in on the action if you put in the effort, and that’s just if you’re shooting around solo. Play a game against someone and watch the steps pile up, and the calories burn off.
Just think about it, you’re running, jumping, stretching and flexing all in one sport. If you’re working close to the hoop against a defender, you’re contorting your body trying to get around them.
I would challenge anyone interested in a decent workout to pick up a ball, find a hoop, and go run any of the hundreds of shooting drills you can find online for 90 minutes.
If you’re truly serious, doing some plyometrics before you get into playing won’t hurt, but it’s not needed. You’ll find your vertical jump will increase just by playing, but again working on even more hops isn’t a bad thing.
It’s Great for Teamwork.
This links in with the small number of players, you’re all relying on each other so much more, so you have to learn to work together.
Even in the 5-man games, 2 players working well together on a play can be lethal. If you get the entire team on the same page, working as a group it’s almost unstoppable.
Players will need to learn to pick each other up, push each other, support each other and some will need to step up a lead. You get this in other sports too, but with only 3 – 5 players on the court, this really is small unit tactics at it’s finest.
I’m not going to lie, one of my favourite parts of watching the NBA is the shoes. Everyone loves dope kicks, it’s the way of the world. From the flamboyant to the striking, basketball shoes come in all shapes, sizes and colours, so you get to dazzle the spectators with your fashion choice as you go up for that layup. My personal choice is the Nike Hyperdunk line, I play in the Hyperdunk 2012’s shown below.
Few other sports have such an impact on fashion with their equipment than basketball, everybody has heard of Michael Jordan. They may not know his work on the court, but they damn sure know the Jumpman logo and his shoe empire.
Basketball shoes transcend the sport, they’re in music videos on the feet of your favourite artist. In movies, TV shows, fashion blogs, you name it, there’s a pair of Nike, Jordan or Adidas ball shoes there somewhere.
You just don’t get this with other sports, sure athletes have signature equipment from other sports too, but are you really telling me you’re going to the supermarket wearing those Rory McIlroy golf pants as a fashion statement? How about clacking down the red carpet at a movie premiere in your brand-new Cristiano Ronaldo CR7s? Not likely.
In closing, don’t believe what you may have heard about basketball. It’s a fast paced, action packed sport. That if you decide to pick up and play is a fantastic workout and a great experience once you start playing against others.
See you on the court.