Basketball Not just a sport, but a culture

Basketball was first invented by James Naismith so that students had a sport to play in the winter months. It was instantly a hit and spread across America quickly from students introducing the game to their YMCA's and Springfield College sending the original 13 rules in a magazine to YMCA's all across the country.

Basketball became popular among many because the sport is easy to pick up and it is very cheap to create a team. Today, most schools, religious locations (churches, mosques, temples etc.), and parks have basketball courts built on their grounds. In addition, there are all different types of basketball which allows people of all ages, gender, sexual orientation and abilities to play.

  • Disabled Basketball (wheelchair basketball)
  • Prison Basketball
  • Gay Basketball
  • Maxi Basketball
  • Show Basketball (Harlem Globetrotters)
  • Mini Basketball
  • Midnight Basketball

Basketball & Religion

James Naismith used the game to instill Christian values in young men. James Naismith was originally on the path to becoming a minister but then decided to become a physical education teacher. In 1898, Naismith was hired at the University as their chapel director and the director of physical education. Naismith was part of a movement called Muscular Christianity which strives to build character, instill Christian values and promote masculinity through rigorous athletics and other physical activities.

James Naismith

Basketball's Connection with Muslims

Basketball is a favorite sport among Muslims. College and professional players have been viewed as heroes by many Muslim Americans. The players are "symbols of affirmation at a time when they face hostility from some Americans." The sport also brings fellowship to Muslims with non-Muslims. There are Muslim athletes in all sports, however, in basketball there are far more Muslim players whose fame has put the religion in a positive light. Players include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Hakeem Olajuwon
“Every Muslim community I go to, there’s this obsession for basketball. Almost every mosque you go to, there’s a basketball court outside,” said Musab Abdali of Houston, 19

Catholic Colleges Dominate in Basketball

Mighty Macs of Immaculata College Championship Team

Catholic colleges were founded to serve immigrants and the working class and because Catholics were unable to to get into other colleges. With basketball needing little space to play, few participants and its low cost to start a team, Catholic colleges turned to basketball as their sport of choice. Catholic colleges first started dominating when the college Immaculata won the first three de facto national women's basketball championships. Then in the 1950's Bill Russell had a break out season for the University of San Francisco. In the 1970's the Mighty Macs won the title and more recently, Loyola-Chicago and Villanova were both in the Final Four and Villanova ultimately won. In this year's March Madness tournament, half the number one seeds were catholic colleges.

Villanova after winning the March Madness Tournament, 2018
“It’s not that sports were particularly holy, but you could see it as a holy thing to do. It could have the potential to give glory to God,” said Julie E. Byrne, a professor of religion at Hofstra University who studies American Catholicism, referencing the Jesuit phrase “ad majorem Dei gloriam,” or “for the greater glory of God.”

Street Basketball as a Lived Religion

For African-Americans, basketball is not just a sport they play to achieve fame and fortune. Basketball is an outlet for them to forget. Many of them are living a life in which their siblings, friends, and other family members are being killed in the streets, sent to prison or are addicted to drugs. Author of the book , Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball, Onajé X.O. Woodbine explains this and the game in his view is a lived religion.

"Street basketball was not and is not just a game, it is a ritual: a bid to transcend the limitations of urban life, an effort to remember those who had gone before, and an opportunity, for some, but not most, to move up and out into a new reality."

Not only can basketball be seen as a “lived religion”, but it can also be used to spread religion. When Stephen Curry started playing in the NBA in 2009, the word of the Lord was made known to millions. Curry would write on the heel of his sneakers “I can do all things” with permanent marker. This verse is from Philippians 4:13 which fully reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Curry first started writing this on his sneakers because there was some doubt about his career since he repeatedly injured his ankle. This verse allowed him to keep his determination and prove everyone wrong. When Curry came out with his first line of sneakers he put this verse on the tongue. This way, when a person put on the shoes, even if they were not religious, they would know that there is something inside them that wants them to be the best they can be in all things that they do. In his newest pair of sneakers, the verse Romans 8:28 is written in Morse code on the bottom. When decoded the verse reads “All things work together for those who love and serve the Lord.” In addition, he has the word integrity written in Morse code and on the outsole the words trust, care and commitment are written (Flores, 2016). Curry spreads the word of the Lord in a very subtle way. He is not the type to, as he says, “beat people over the head with the Bible” (Thompson, 2015). When people feel like they are being forced to believe in something, they turn away from it. Therefore, Curry’s subtlety is refreshing and actually makes an impact.

Basketball & Pop Culture

Basketball Sneakers

Michael Jordan

Basketball sneakers are a huge part of popular culture. This started when arguably the best basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, came out with his line of Air Jordan sneakers. These sneakers were first released in 1985, were called Retro 1 and sold for $65. Although Air Jordan sneakers were created for playing basketball, people from newborns to the elderly have worn these sneakers. The shoes are still great to play basketball in, but many wear them as a fashion statement. Since their first release, the price of Air Jordan sneakers has continuously gone up. From the first pair to the second, the price went from $65 to $100. The highest price for a pair of Air Jordan’s was $250 which were for the Air Jordan XX8 which were released in 2013.

Air Jordan XX8 sneaker

The release of every Air Jordan sneaker has come with customers waiting hours and hours in a line that would go on for blocks. These sneakers are not only expensive, but released in little quantities, making them a high commodity. So much so that people have killed over them. Michael Jordan and his manufacturer, Nike, has tried to stop the bloodshed over these shoes by varying release times from morning to night (Bain, 2015). They have also changed releases so that they would only be online. However, none of these tactics have worked since people have not just been killed when the shoes were released. It has been known since 1990 that people are being killed over these sneakers and the cycle has still not been broken twenty-eight years later. These shoes are just another example of how basketball is a culture because people believe that having these sneakers are a necessity.

Basketball in Music

Basketball is also seen in pop culture musically. Famous artists and rappers such as Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and Nicki Minaj, have all made references in their songs about either the sport itself and/or players. There are even songs named after the sport such as Kurtis Blow’s 1984 song “Basketball,” whose chorus repeats “we’re playing basketball.” In addition, Lil Wayne came out with a song called “Kobe Bryant” in 2009 which he raps “Two-four so nice, my flow so mean / catch me at the game sitting next to Goldstein, Kobe Bryant Nikes, purple gold strings / Kobe in the game dunkin’ on the whole team.” For Lil Wayne to not only rap about basketball, but to name and entire song after a NBA player proves the importance of basketball in his life, especially for someone who isn’t even known to play basketball. Rappers have even referred to themselves playing street basketball in their songs. Ice Cube did so in his song “Today Was A Good Day” where he raps, “Which park are y’all playing basketball / Get me on the court and I’m trouble /Last week f--ked around and got a triple double / Freaking n---as every way like MJ / I can’t believe today was a good day.” Basketball references have also been used in songs as insults. This can be seen in Ghostface Killah’s song “Barbershops” which sings “One minute you hot, next minute you not / remind me of the New York Knicks with they jumpshots.” Most importantly, basketball has been related to religion in music. Rapper Big Pun combines the two topics in his song “The Dream Shatterer” where he sings, “Shatter dreams like Jordan assault and batter your team / your squadron will be barred from rap, Like Adam and Eve from the garden.” These are only some of the hundreds of songs that refer to basketball. This proves that basketball can be related to numerous topics, not just sports. Artists are able to use the sport to help them express their feelings. In addition, because basketball is so popular, artists can refer to the sport in their songs and listeners will understand what they are talking about.

Basketball in T.V. & Movies

  • High School Musical
  • One Tree Hill
  • Love & Basketball
  • Coach Carter
  • The Mighty Macs
  • Thunderstruck
  • White Men Can't Jump
  • Above The Rim
  • Space Jam
  • Air Bud
  • Basketball Wives
Photo from the movie High School Musical

Basketball is idolized in both TV shows and movies. High School Musical and One Tree Hill both show that playing basketball makes you popular. In High School Musical, the star basketball player, Troy Bolton, is loved by all the girls in his school and all the guys wish they could be him. Almost everyone in the high school is obsessed with the sport and attends each game. The hallways are filled with posters rooting on the team and the whole movie is focused on the championship game. One Tree Hill shows that if you are good at basketball, you will become popular. Lucas Scott played street basketball all his life because he did not want to play with his mean step-brother Nathan who is the star of the basketball team. Lucas is not popular, and nobody knows of his amazing talent, except for his close friends and the basketball coach who happens to see him playing on the street one day. When Nathan hears that the coach wants Lucas to play on the team, he challenges him to a one on one match. If Nathan wins, Lucas does not try out for the team, but if Lucas wins, he gets to try out and be left alone by Nathan. When Lucas wins the challenge, he is instantly recognized by everyone at school and in their small town. Nathan tries to embarrass Lucas and get him to quit repetitively, but Lucas’ love for the game helps him persist through his struggles and ultimately become the leading scorer on the team. The show proves that love and determination can get you though your struggles. It also shows that you should not give up on something you love just because others do not believe in you. Basketball was used to demonstrate these life lessons.

Lucas and Nathan Scott in uniform during their first game together from One Tree Hill

The movie Love & Basketball shows both love for the game and how the sport can bring love up love for another. In addition, the movie shows how men aren’t the only ones who can be good at basketball. The main characters, Monica and Quincy, both have a love for basketball which brings them together in the first place. As they play, Quincy is surprised that Monica is able to keep up with him and play as well as him. This frustrates him at first and he pushes her down. However, as the movie goes on he accepts that she is a good player. After playing the game together for hours each day, Monica and Quincy fall in love. Although they love each other, they do not have a relationship together until they both get into USC at the end of their senior year of high school. The rest of the movie Monica and Quincy are on and off but it ultimately ends in Quincy’s career ending from an injury and Monica being drafted to the WNBA. One of the final scenes is of Quincy and his toddler daughter at Monica’s game where she is wearing a jersey with both her and Quincy’s last name on it, showing that they end up together. Through basketball this film shows that love exists and that women are equal to, and sometime better than, men in sports.

Monica and Quincy from Love & Basketball

There are also movies about basketball that show that determination and faith can bring you from the bottom to the top. This can be seen in movies such as The Mighty Macs. The movie is based off the real-life story of the women’s basketball team at Immaculata College who shocked the world by winning not only the first, but the first three de facto women’s national basketball championships. As stated earlier, the team had little resources and equipment. They played against “big dog” teams who were thought to destroy them. Their story shows that through hard work and determination, you can do anything. The Mighty Macs’ story is an inspiration to everyone.

The Mighty Macs movie cover

Many TV shows and movies about basketball have deep meaning and teach life lessons. However, there are also movies such as Space Jam and Air Bud that are heartwarming and hilarious. They bring joy to people of all ages, even if the viewer believes that they are not interested in basketball. This is another example of how basketball brings everyone together. In addition, there are TV shows such as Basketball Wives that shows how basketball is a way of life. The show follows the lives of women who are married to NBA players. These women show how their lives change after their marriage to these men because they are now expected to talk, dress, and act a certain way. These movies and TV show exemplify that basketball can have an impact on anyone.

Basketball is a Culture

Basketball is not just a sport. It affects millions of lives through not only playing the sports, but also through fashion, religion, music, television, and movies, and has been since 1891. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, culture is “the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time.” Since basketball is ultimately a way of life for numerous people, it can be considered and should be considered a culture. Dr. James Naismith just wanted to create a winter sport that he could use to instill Christian values into young men. However, he ended up creating a culture that millions have immersed themselves in, in all different ways.

Works Cited

Bain, M. (2015, November 20). 1,200 people are killed each year over sneakers. Retrieved from Quartz: https://qz.com/554784/1200-people-are-killed-each-year-over-sneakers/

Farnum, A. (2011, October 14). The one that started it all. Retrieved from NCAA: https://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-women/article/2011-10-01/one-started-it-all

Flores, G. (2016, December 7). There Are Religious Messages Hidden On Steph Curry's Latest Shoes. Retrieved from Sole Collection: https://solecollector.com/news/2016/12/under-amour-curry-3-religious-messages

Hayes, D. L. (2016, october 5). The 'lived religion' of street basketball. Retrieved from National Catholic Reporter: https://www.ncronline.org/books/2017/08/lived-religion-street-basketball

Ranker, L. (2012, May 2). Finding Faith with James Naismith. Retrieved from udk: http://www.kansan.com/news/finding-faith-with-james-naismith/article_78e534b6-6ef9-5200-8127-b560edc73b54.html

Sacirbey, O. (2012, May 21). Why Basketball is Muslim's Favorite Sport. Retrieved from HuffPost: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/21/basketball-muslim-favorite-sport_n_1528495.html

Thompson, M. (2015, February 1). Steph Curry's Sneaker A Billboard For Christian Faith. Retrieved from Rapzilla: http://rapzilla.com/2015-02-charged-by-belief-steph-curry-releases-curry-one-shoes-with-a-giveaway/

Tracy, M. (2018, MArych 30). Why Catholic College Excel at Basketball. Retrieved from NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/sports/catholic-basketball-final-four.html

Zundel, R. (2013, February 5). Jazz's Randy Foye: 'Basketball saved my life'. Retrieved from ksl.com: https://www.ksl.com/?sid=23963013

Created By
Maryellen Doino


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