Basketball is a wonderful sport. It is generally played point to point, in a long and exhausting competition which, in the best of cases, is decided on the last shot of the last second. It is a sport in which physical prowess but also talent counts. Where instinct is fundamental but also organization. Where you can be the best player in business but fail to win any titles. It is a sport in which team play prevails over the individual, but in which the team also needs individuals. It is a game in which each match lasts a certain predetermined time, but in which there are also, on closer inspection, match points.
A GAME OF A THOUSAND CONTRADICTIONS
In short, it is a game of a thousand contradictions. And, not surprisingly, it is also a very spectacular game to watch, full of twists, exciting actions, and reversals in the face. A game in which boredom is difficult to prevail because even the most unbalanced of games can give you great emotions. It is a sport, even, in its poetic way, for the stories it hides behind it. And, not just particular, for the role it played in the evolution of society, if we think, for example, of the emancipation of African Americans in America.
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Perhaps also for all these reasons, many have tried to describe it, fixing its main characteristics in an effective sentence. We tried to collect the five that seemed most significant to us. Some come from the NBA world, the most beautiful and spectacular league in the world, but others also come from Italy and the past. Let’s find out together.
A Racist Sport (in reverse)
The paradox highlighted by Gianmarco Pozzecco
As we said at the beginning, basketball is a sport that has also played a very important role in the evolution of society, especially in America. It was the first professional team sport in which African Americans were allowed to excel. It was, together with boxing, what allowed so many of them not only to leave the ghetto but also to bring the problems of blacks and their discrimination to the attention of the media. For this reason, basketball is traditionally considered the most liberal and open sport, at least in the American world.
Looking at it from another perspective, however, basketball can also be considered racist. After all, it gives much more space to those ethnic groups that, structurally, are better suited to practice it. In fact, children and whites seem to have many more difficulties, as ironic films tell us ( Chi non-salta Bianco è ) and life experiences such as those that Gianmarco Pozzecco summarized in the sentence you find below.
Basketball is a racist sport, because those who are small are at a disadvantage.
On the other hand, Pozzecco was a great point guard but he measured 1.80 meters. Below that height even for the rearmost positions, it is usually very difficult to play at high levels. With, however, some important exceptions. In recent months in the NBA, for example, the case of Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics is causing a sensation. An athlete is just 1.75 meters tall but capable of earning the start as a starter in the All-Star Game.
Even Pozzecco, on the other hand, despite his not exaggerated height, has achieved important goals at the national and international levels. In fact, in his Palmares, there is an Italian championship won with Varese, but also the memorable silver medal earned in 2004 at the Athens Olympics, where he was decisive with his points during the semifinal against Lithuania.
Big players, small court
As a football genius like Maradona sees it
Fortunately, not only basketball players talk about basketball. Since the sport is widespread in every latitude, over the years many have become passionate about basketball and its particularities. Even if, precisely because of its paradoxes, not everyone has always managed to understand it. This is also the case of Diego Armando Maradona, one of the greatest and most controversial sportsmen of the 1900s, who knew how to dribble very well with the ball, even if using his feet.
The sentence you find below expresses many of the doubts that non-professionals often feel about basketball. The field is small and the players are large, so there doesn’t seem to be much room for spectacular plays or big races. It is no coincidence that we have placed a photo of Maradona on the side where he celebrates after scoring for England. His goal is 1986, the one in which he discarded the entire opposing team, in basketball would probably not be possible.
Do you like basketball, Franchi? I have never understood it. Too big players for too small a court.
(Diego Armando Maradona)
If you are curious to know who is the Franchi to whom Diego is addressing in the quote, and where this sentence comes from, we must however explain to you that it does not come directly from Maradona’s mouth. In fact, it comes from a biographical film, Maradona – La mano de Dios, written by Manuel Rios San Martin and Marco Risi (later also director of the film) based on a subject of the former Napoli striker.
Franchi is in fact the surname of the historic prosecutor of Maradona, who unfortunately followed its decline in the 1990s. But if the sentence, so beautiful and nice, was perhaps written more by the screenwriters than by the real Maradona, his attitude towards basketball is that described by the quote. An attitude that does not take into account the evolution of Argentine basketball. If, when Diego was young, basketball in his country was an almost abandoned sport, in recent decades it has literally been reborn, bringing the national team to two medals in the last four editions of the Olympics.
“You called me”
Kobe Bryant’s farewell letter
The history of each sport is also the history of the great champions who have practiced it, who have set records, and who have marked its path. Thus, even the history of professional basketball cannot fail to be tied to the stories of champions such as Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, LeBron James, and many other champions. And when these champions leave the parquet, there are very moving moments throughout the movement.
Many great players who marked the first decade of the 21st century have recently stopped playing. Within a few months, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett, three very different players, said goodbye to the NBA. The last two did it very quietly. The first, on the other hand, announced it in time, turning his last season in the American League into a long and moving goodbye.
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I played despite the sweat and pain not to win a challenge but because you called me. I did it all for you because that’s what you do when someone makes you feel as alive as you made me feel.
The public announcement, by Kobe Bryant, of the decision to hang up his boots was made through a sort of open letter that the player wrote to basketball. Yes, you read that right: basketball. He turned to the sport that marked his life, showing the reasons why he loved him so viscerally.
The sentence you find above comes from there and is in our opinion the most significant, or, better, the most universal. Anyone who has played basketball with commitment and effort, at whatever level they have reached, will recognize themselves in Bryant’s words. Because it is a sport that demands a lot on a physical level – you run continuously from one side of the pitch to the other, without pauses – but that also knows how to give a lot.
The quote from Beppe Fenoglio
After talking about current basketball players or the recent past, let’s take a step back. We go even to 1963, or, indeed, to 1944. The quotation you find below was in fact written by Beppe Fenoglio and is contained in the novel A private matter , published for the first time in 1963 (shortly after the death of its author ) but set in the years of the partisan war.
As anyone who has read Il partigiano Johnny or some other work by the writer from Alba knows, Fenoglio was a lover of English culture rather than American one. He loved its history, literature, and art. On the other hand, during the war, his contribution was fundamental for the partisan formations to keep in touch with the Anglo-Americans. And, as a good fan of English culture, he probably appreciated football more than basketball, as demonstrated by the photo on the side, taken immediately after the end of the conflict.
Magnificent sport – said Leo. – All Anglo-Saxon. Milton, did it ever occur to you, then, that basketball players couldn’t be fascists?
In A Private Affair, however, Fenoglio introduces an interesting dialogue, of which you can see an important quote above. In conversation are Leo, commander of the Badoglian formation to which the protagonist adheres, and Milton, Fenoglio’s alter ego, who, not surprisingly, has a nom de guerre taken from British literature.
Here basketball is considered, by Leo, an Anglo-Saxon sport, and therefore substantially anti-fascist. And in a sense, for the time, it was true. Basketball was invented by James Naismith, a Canadian teacher who worked in the United States, around 1891. In England, it never clearly imposed itself, so much so that the country in all its history has never had a place worthy of being known in major international tournaments. But this was of little interest to Fenoglio. As far as the Italians of the 1940s knew, the United States and Great Britain were very similar, one and the same. And that was enough.
“And that’s why I won in the end”
Michael Jordan’s famous phrase
We conclude with the most famous of all the quotes ever uttered on basketball. A phrase that is famous both because it is actually very significant, and explains a lot not only about basketball but also about sport in general; and because it was delivered by the greatest champion of all time. The signature that you find at the bottom of the quote, in fact, is that of Michael Jordan, the historic number 23 of the Chicago Bulls.
By itself, the phrase does not come from a particularly epic context. It is a quote that was used, in fact, by Nike during one of the numerous commercials that were created to exploit the popularity of the Bulls star. It is also for this reason that we do not know if it was actually conceived by Jordan or by the advertisers who took care of the image. But ultimately, that’s not the point: the point is that it’s one of the truest phrases ever said about top-level sport.
I’ve missed over 9,000 shots in my career.
I’ve lost nearly 300 games.
26 times they trusted me and gave me the decisive shot and I missed it.
I have failed many and many times in my life.
And that’s why I won in the end.
The career of Michael Jordan, who is unanimously considered the greatest basketball player of any era, has indeed been full of failures (as well as victories). At college in North Carolina, he’d gotten the title on his first try, but then two disappointing years had come. In the NBA he was chosen by the Chicago Bulls and immediately recorded impressive numbers. In his rookie year he averaged 28 solid points per game, nearly 6 assists and over 51% from the field. But the team barely qualified for the playoffs and were thrown out in the first round.
In the following seasons the statistics improved (he would have reached an average of 37 points), but not the general performance of the team. In the first 6 seasons in Chicago, he never managed to reach the finals, always being eliminated before the decisive moment. Everything changed starting in 1991 when Phil Jackson’s system finally began to work and the headlines began to flock. But Jordan was already 28 years old and hadn’t brought home team success (excluding international tournaments) in 9 years, when, at 19, he won the NCAA championship.