The Art of Basketball

“I have a plan of action, but the game is a game of adjustments.”—Mike Krzyzewski

“Great players are willing to give up their own personal achievement for the achievement of the group. It enhances everybody.”—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

“Not only is there more to life than basketball, there’s a lot more to basketball than basketball.”—Phil Jackson

Two basketball teams are warming up inside a gym on a cold winter night. One team briskly runs through layups with crisp precision: all lines are tight, passes snap with uniformity, layups are identical. The other team also runs its layup lines, but each player seems to personalize each layup: a slight double-clutch here, a reverse there; the passes are strong but altered somewhat as players run the drill. Now: which of the two teams is more likely to be mostly white, and which is likely to be largely African American? The answer to that question has everything to do with the Black vernacular tradition. This course will employ the game of basketball to examine Black cultural expression: to understand where broader Black cultural gestures come from, why they persist, and how such (countless) gestures inform not just Black cultural intimacy but also greatly inform the larger American national character.

Inside the Classroom

The course will consist of five sections: an introductory section on “The Black Vernacular Tradition; a section called “Streetball: The City Game”; a section called “Inside the Arena: Organized Basketball”; a section titled “Basketball Culture” that includes basketball in art and popular culture; and a concluding section called “Basketball in Berlin.” Along the way we will examine a variety of texts: film, poetry, fiction, commercials, television, music videos and nonfiction as a way to study various mediums and the way they portray basketball and Blackness.

Outside the Classroom

We will visit Richmond-area basketball games: we will visit a local playground in order to sample streetball culture; we will likely attend a local game between two Historically Black Colleges and Universities; we will attend a local game at a predominately white institution. We will visit, if possible, museum exhibitions that use basketball as a launching point. We will also travel to Berlin, Germany, to study and discuss how the Black vernacular tradition informs the way that Alba Berlin and the Berlin Sports Academy plays and instructs basketball.

Research and Capstone Project

There will be a wide range of possibilities for research projects. Among others, these possibilities will include: oral histories of basketball players from different cultural backgrounds; Interviews of coaches on their approach to cultural differences of their players; on-court demonstrations of a collection of “white” and “black” basketball moves, their connection to team play, and the advantages and disadvantages of both.