If you live in a place similar to Salt Lake City, then you may know a thing or two about what it means to support the local basketball team. In Salt Lake, Jazz fans go nuts every year. It seems as though every genre of people, from indie-kids to the jockstraps, disregard their preconceived superiorities and bond together over beer and basketball, even going as far as to set up a portable basketball goal in their living room from a laundry basket. Regardless of the culture, most Americans can agree on one thing: Basketball is king. With legends like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, it’s no wonder that basketball’s grassroots soon exploded near the start of the 20th century. The first basketball game was played in a Masonic Temple in Trenton, New Jersey, and the players used a wooden basket as a goal. No more than two years after this first game, and basketball took off across the eastern part of the USA. But basketball had much more in store than anyone could ever have anticipate.
It was the year 1916, before the civil rights movement had begun, that the first all-African American basketball conference was formed by nine coaches and faculty members from diverse institutions. Among the institutions were Lincoln, Shaw, Virginia Union, Howard Universities, and last but not least, the Hampton Institute. This conference was called the Central Interscholastic Athletic Association, abbreviated CIAA, and sponsored both unorganized and organized games for young African Americans. However, basketball soon became more than just a game in African American culture; the basketball backboard became an emblem of societal justice, cultural equality, and civil rights. African Americans owned basketball, both on and off the professional court, and used this power to propel their societal oppression upward and outward. The inner city struggles of the African American youth were represented in the game of basketball, and to some extent, still are today
With the history and symbolism of basketball backboards in mind, the question can be asked: How does that symbolism work in today’s society? Is basketball still an emblem of African American culture? Let’s examine basketball. Who is one of the most branded players in basketball? Michael Jordan. You can’t go out in public without seeing his slam dunk emblem embellished across Nike gear and shoes. In basketball history, Michael Jordan was/still is the “it” man – and continues to be an incredible icon for the sport around the globe. This Michael Jordan emblem – arms spread wide, jumping high – perfectly fuses the role of basketball in African American societal achievement for equality. It’s a sport, but it’s also so much more than that – it’s a means for African Americans to achieve equality, as symbolized by the “stretching upwards” of Michael Jordan’s hands within the emblem. This fusion is the epitome of the role of basketball in African American culture.
Perhaps on a similar level of equality, women’s basketball teams formed around the same time as the initial game went professional with the NBA. In 1892 at Smith’s College, women’s basketball was born. A physical education teacher modified the rules and formed the first all-woman intercollegiate team in 1893. The early beginnings of portable basketball goals didn’t just apply to men’s leagues; women were participating in the game of basketball just as frequently as men were. In fact, by 1895, women’s basketball had become so popular that it quickly spread across America, and intercollegiate games began sprouting up like dandelions. Initially, the rules for women’s basketball were implemented for the purpose of making the game less physical than men’s; however, by 1938, for the first time in history, an all women team played an all men’s team using the men’s rules. Eventually, the rules became the same between both sexes, becoming a huge step toward equality in woman’s rights. In the 1970’s, women were finally allowed to play on a full size court. Therefore, the basketball backboard wasn’t just a symbol of equality for African Americans – it was a symbol for the beginnings of feminism, as well.
Today, there’s an overwhelming amount of basketball leagues and levels, ensuring that anyone who wants to play can play. Basketball has reached such a high level of popularity that it brings together even the most diverse of people to cheer on their local team. It’s important to realize the effect of the basketball backboards as emblems among societal groups that work to achieve cultural justice – for all races and both sexes. Basketball truly is an American sport with a rich cultural history that continues to be popular today, whether it’s played on-court or in the middle of the street with a portable basketball goal. Within the last two centuries, basketball has unified the American people, transgressing race, gender, and age.
By skeeze from Pixabay