“Be like Mike?” Not so fast. Just about every basketball player and billions of people across the globe want to be like Mike. The “Mike” referenced here is, of course, Michael Jordan, widely acclaimed as the greatest basketball player of all time. Despite the desires of so many, none of us, with the possible exceptions of Lebron James and my nine-year old grandson, Eli Massaro Roy, will ever be like Mike. This is in part because the fundamental rules of basketball are biased, favoring some such as Jordan, James, and hopefully Eli and disadvantaging others such as most of us mortals. Put simply, the fundamental rules of basketball are decidedly political. Deflated Dreams: Basketball and Politics explains how and why this is so.
Two events separated almost by a lifetime led to my writing this book. The first was a chilling and fretful childhood introduction to the awesome power the seemingly placid sport of basketball held over both its passionate participants and its even more passionate and wilder fans. The second was a leading sports magazine’s telling and recent assertion that Michael Jordan possessed significant “power,” a political term if there ever was one, both on and off the court. These events convinced me there is a strong connection between politics, the study of power and its uses, and the sport of basketball.
This book deals with one central aspect of that connection, the politics and bias in the basic rules of basketball. It is not an exhaustive study of politics, basketball or even of the politics of the rules of basketball. It seeks, rather, to educate readers to the enriching and enlightening perspective one can gain by a political analysis of subject matter not traditionally viewed as “political” and to do this with a mixture of intelligence and humor. I want readers to have fun with this book but also to learn more about both politics and basketball.
Readers who know and love basketball and especially those who do not will discover much about the game they never knew. Among the many basketball-related questions answered in the book are the following. What rule was instituted in reaction to teams’ dangerously hoisting and throwing their smaller players into the balconies overlooking most early basketball courts? How did creative cheating help bring the dribble into the game? What popular singer would sacrifice “ a first born or two” to be like Michael Jordan? What is basketball’s “Bashor resiliency test?” What is a spatula pick? What key role did passionate fans have in the origins of basketball’s backboards? What rule change is basketball’s “great equalizer?” Who are Slavko Vranes and Paval Podkolzin and what can they tell us about basketball? Why does scoring in basketball usually take more finesse than scoring in football?
Likewise, readers who know and love politics and especially those who do not will discover much they did not know about politics. Why are rules or laws often stretched or broken? Why do rules become more and more complex over time? Why is no rule or law ever neutral? What roles did religion, law enforcement and the Progressive Movement play in the origin and development of basketball? Why is basketball likely the elitist of all the elite professional team sports?
In Deflated Dreams: Basketball and Politics, I employ what I trust is an entertaining and readable mix drawing from history, popular culture, personal anecdotes and the rich legacy of the games of basketball and politics. Additionally, the book features a simple, engaging and often humorous style to expose the biased and unequal aspects of the rules of the game. I try doing this without ever losing neither my objective perspective nor my love of and respect for the sport.