For me, there is only one real American game: basketball. It was invented here (yes, I know, by a Canadian) and we play it better than any where else in the world. I probably played every day for thirty years, and it’s still a great sorrow to me that my age and ruined knees don’t let me play any more. I think the three big sports of the United States mark epochs of our history.
Baseball is the sport of our agrarian past. It’s a sport for small towns. You can play baseball over a wider range of ages and abilities than either football or basketball, so you can find a way to play even when you have a limited population from which to draw. The equipment needed is limited, but you do need plenty of space. It isn’t easily adaptable to urban or suburban spaces. In addition, it’s at heart an individual sport. The batter and the pitcher opposed each other and that one-on-one confrontation is at its heart.
Football is the sport of suburbia; the sport of corporate America. The field itself is tightly bounded and restricted in size. Football became really popular only after World War II when corporate power and the drive to uniformity dominated our country. More than any other sport, football depends on complicated teamwork, and on individuals following orders. With helmets and uniforms on, it’s difficult to tell whether the players are Black or White, young or old, Asian or Hispanic. The ideal team would have all interchangeable players each prepared to execute their assigned role perfectly.
Basketball is the sport of the city, of the world and of our present. It’s cool, urban, takes little space to play and emphasizes the individual. It’s the only one of the big three of American sports to be played all over the world and it’s easy to see why. It’s cheap, you don’t need much equipment and, compared to football, it isn’t dangerous. You can find pick up games going on all over the country where strangers compete against one another. You don’t see that happen with baseball or football.
The sport of our future: Soccer. But that’s another story.