Two hoops, ten players, one basketball court and one leather ball to dribble, pass, shoot and score points with. The other aspects of basketball – the rules, the technicalities – are all fluid and bent by the whims and preferences of the existing culture, even the existing playing teams.
Street basketball may not be the roots of the sport, but through the years, it has becoming both the foundation of professional basketball as well as the avenue for the exercise of the growing subculture in street basketball. Ballard (2004) elaborates: “Within the caged confines amidst the bohemian community of Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan can be found the essence of street basketball: all the grit, showmanship, competition, and spectacle that make the game great” (pg 35).
To those who are not indoctrinated in the culture of street basketball, it is easy to say that what they see being played on the street and what they see flashing on their television monitors are both the same game of basketball; that they share so many similar attributes and that the only thing different in street basketball compared to collegiate or professional basketball is the level of popularity.
But that is far from the truth – because those who know and understand street basketball, those who lived and breathed street basketball, those who bled and literally died in the cement floors of the street basketball courts know that what they do where they do it is so much different from what high salaried pro basketball players do in the NBA. They have different stages where they play; they have different rules as well as different ways of enforcing it; they have different cultures and different reasons why they play basketball.
The only thing they have in common is that they all want that leather and rubber spheroid up in the air and then inside the rim, swooshing the net that makes a catcall for such a sexy swing. Professional basketball is all about winning the coveted ‘ring’, about being able to parade around town like rockstars and hoist that championship trophy alongside guys who you might be elbowing the following season.
In professional basketball, there is a certain convenience for players and team owners to just move from one team to another because it is just a job for them, but on the street, one’s alliance to a basketball team is a binding oath; jumping to another team is never about the job of getting the Ws and finishing the season with the ‘ring’, and most players who see a former teammate desert them always take it personal, because street basketball is never a job.
It is a brotherhood where loyalty is the most expensive and most important aspect of a player, and those who sell it cheap will always have a ‘low market value’. Street basketball and professional basketball have different set of ethos – in street basketball, they play for their team’s pride and for the wager while in professional basketball, they play for their own personal pride and for their own personal salary, especially in today’s era when even the best of players are traded to other teams in exchange for the chance of the team’s long term vision to take shape.
In street basketball, it is always here and now, every game feels like the last game, and it is hard to go home with a monkey on your back because when you lost, you did not just part with some of your money, you also parted with some ounces of self respect and the respect of the people in the neighborhood about you, your team and your game. Observing and analyzing human behavior – Like every cultural vestige and like every subculture type, included in the consideration for the analysis of certain cultural practices is the assessment of human behavior.
In street basketball, there are also a set of prevailing human behavior and the dictating factors on why such patterns exist, appear and persist. The manifestation of these sets and patterns of human behavior inside street basketball is two-pronged; those which the average eyes can see and those which only the trained eyes can detect happen simultaneously. It is both reflected and hidden in the way they dress, in the way they talk and in the way they play the game.
The human behavior patterns in street basketball depict that of the prehistoric tribes – it requires that only the fittest with the toughest set of behaviors survive. And what are these behaviors? The behavior in fighting, in negotiating, in people management and control of power – all of these behaviors are essential for a person to survive the culture of street basketball.
Without some of these behaviors, the individual is forced outside the circle of street basketball. Players fight for their place to be among those who are considered as respected basketball players in the street. Outside the five-on-five, there are those who wield similar power, clout and influence – those who fix wagers, those who tap, harness and control budding talents and those who are present in the circuit for their own socio-political reasons.
One needs only to sit down by the bleachers and take a good look around to see the abundance of a diverse set of human behavior present inside one confined yet open spaced rectangular domain of street basketball. African American guys play with white guys and vice versa, and so does the relationship of those who have different ethnic descent, and this reflects the behavior of the individuals inside street basketball when it comes to ethnic sensitivity.
Other easily discernable behaviors found in street basketball include the penchant of most basketball players for gambling, their obvious disregard for socially accepted behavior while in public like going topless for most of the time, spitting, cursing and the prevalence of foul and derogatory terms hurled at each other, the integration of gang related separatist attitude and the resorting to physical assault as a way to settle differences of avenge any feeling of indignation.
Looking at street basketball players, the universal behavior noticeable is their take on street basketball as the end all and be all of their lives – they gamble every paper bill they have on the pockets of their pants, sometimes, even money that they don’t have, on a round of street basketball without serious regard for what will happen in the future in the event that they lose their bet; most of them would rather spend their days playing ball and cementing their hold among their peers and their social cliques, which sometimes result in the creation of strong bonds of brotherhood between two persons or among members of a group or the creation of intensive animosity as well; school is never an equally important priority, and the preference for the type of work they would engage on is similar on how they battle, win and lost in street basketball – exciting, thrilling and promises the yield of a quick buck..
Street basketball is a religion, while professional basketball is a mere day job for night shift dribblers, and the rituals that are involved in the daily exercise of their faith exists in different aspects – there are rituals of battle, rituals of praise, rituals done to ask for intercession and divine intercession as well as the rituals for both the victorious and the defeated. At some point, the ‘real’ and the ‘sports-based’ religion meets in the middle, when religion is infused in the practice of a competitive sport, because there is one ultimate human behavior that is manifested greatly in street basketball – and that is the desire to win, because winning is always more than the scorebook statistics; it is about winning wagers and bets, winning the respect of the crowd as well as the opponents and winning your own sense of self respect towards yourself. A sports activity is a particular cultural event, and like any other cultural event, street basketball is unique in different places.
But despite these differences, this cultural event shares the same characteristic – and that is this: that it is the showcasing of the most primitive instinct that is present among humans inside the society; it is a display of skill, grace, strength and the set of values to which a person will be remembered for; it is a reminder of how fiercely competitive the world is, how one should earn everything with his bare hands standing on his own two feet alone. Street basketball speaks a lot about a place’s culture; pro basketball is plain entertainment. Works Cited: Ballard, Chris. “Hoops Nation: A Guide to America’s Best Pickup Basketball. ” University of Nebraska Press, October 2004.
Courtney from Study Moose
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