Spirit’s Seasons, A Series – Basketball, Episode I

THE THIRD MONDAY in October found Spirit back in the gym, another basketball season. Spirit loved the game of basketball and he also saw the sport as a nice transition between football and his beloved golf. Each year when he first heard the sound of those leather balls bouncing on the hardwood floor accompanied by a slight echo throughout the gymnasium, goosebumps began to rise, his heart began to beat a little stronger, and Spirit discovered a smile on his face. Coach Sintasket felt exulted with a rush of hope, the hope of making it work, the ambition of winning through precision teaching and well-reasoned planning. It inspired an almost spiritual feeling in Spirit. Each season was like a rebirth of aspirations and gladness. Each basketball season brought the prospect of a wild but joyful ride and he was ready to just let it happen. During those moments he also pondered the origin of the game.

While in college Spirit discovered a book in the Ronald Reagan Library. That reference provided the history of the game of basketball. In it, he discovered that the foundation of the modern game was started by a Canadian physical education instructor who was working for the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. The primary indoor sport was volleyball, but that instructor, James Naismith, wanted to create a game with more running. He used a soccer ball and nailed a peach basket at each end wall of the gymnasium. Players could not legally dribble but could only advance or exchange the ball with a pass. The teams had varying numbers of players from day-to-day, but it was determined, at some point, that nine per team was the best number for the size of the gym. The object was to get the ball into the peach basket for a point. A ladder was placed next to the basket and the instructor would climb it, remove the ball, and put it back into play. Eventually the bottoms were cut out of the baskets, teams were limited to five players on the court, and the game evolved. Since then there have been rule changes almost every year. Spirit felt that this was an important history and it inspired him.

But Spirit was most astonished when he discovered that the actual first game similar to basketball was developed by Native Americans, suspected to be ancestors of the Aztecs. There were numerous differences though. A smaller, solid, hard, rubber ball was used. The heavy ball could not be touched by the hands, but was usually struck by the thigh, chest, or hip. The hoop was made of stone, much higher than ten feet, and positioned vertically. Additionally, the first team to get the ball through the hoop was the winner, but sometimes it took several days for that to happen. There were a few other differences, but many of them were based on speculations from Meso-American archeologists and cultural anthropologists.

There was a large stone block at the center of each court. It was similar to those sacrificial stones presumably used by some Central American cultures. It was hypothesized that the losing coach was beheaded at the conclusion of each game. Spirit thought, If that were true, it would certainly cause the coach to focus on the development of his players and his strategy.

That thought always helped Spirit focus on his coaching skills. He often considered that a loss would mean his death, so Coach Sintasket worked his players extra hard. He also spent hours each week planning new drills, new techniques, new plays, and effective strategies.