The Long Residuals of Basketball
With 25,000 dollars, one could buy a luxury car or even put a down payment on a home. On Christmas Day though, that was the amount of money spent on a pair of courtside seats to watch the Los Angeles Lakers play the Miami Heat in the Staples Center (ticketmaster.com). From high school to the professional level, contemporary basketball maintains a distinct level of media attention and focus unlike any other sport. High-flying dunks and last second buzzer beaters go viral on the Internet within minutes and are broadcasted all over the world. Arenas, capable of holding tens of thousands of spectators, sell out to fans displaying their team spirit through jerseys, face paint, and team colors. All the while, premier professional basketball stars, a majority of whom are African American, are at the center of American popular culture and are closely observed on a daily basis. In this paper I will be addressing the impact that urbanization and class relations has had on the development of basketball through much of the 19th and 20th centuries. In order to understand the emergence of the modern athlete and existing nature of the game, one must look into the continuities and discontinuities of societal practices and norms throughout history. Contemporary basketball, and the dominance of the African American athlete, has been largely shaped by the transition from the pre-industrialized era of regionalized vernacular and genteel sporting practices to the mass movement and growth of cities, in which the ideal body has been molded by various factors. As these social, economic and political factors panned out, the game of basketball, as we know it today, was formed. Beginning around 1820, the American public along with waves of immigrants flocked major US cities in search of jobs. The newly defined cities, once known for their unspecialized vacant lots and quiet streets, endured rapid change. The growth and development of these cities resulted in the loss of traditional playing sites, which could not be restored. Traditional sporting culture would soon die out and give way to more modern games. With the urban population quadrupling and the development of the urban core, many of these newly reformed city dwellers could not afford the cost of carfare to large parks where sport was played, which was located well beyond walking distance of the urban periphery. These changes were predominately influenced by the traditional genteel approach. The upper class used sports as a way to define class boundaries and differentiate themselves from the lower classes. This idea of superiority resembled much of primitive society, in which participation in sport was on the basis of membership in a caste or kinship group rather than personal achievement (Guttmann 33). The industrial workforce, many of who were immigrants that were illiterate and financially unstable, was not prepared for urban life, and thus faced discrimination within the sporting world. The elite formed formal cricket and racquetball clubs as a way to practice proper sporting forms amongst fellow gentlemen and gentlewomen while distancing themselves from the lower class. Sports for many were used as a way to maintain a sense of community and traditional lifestyle. Factory and big business owners utilized their power and influence to impact various dimensions of the sporting culture for their blue-collar workers. They ultimately set the standards for all aspects of the game, from facilities to equipment, and the integration of sport into daily life. For the first time, distinct boundaries were drawn between leisure and work, creating two separate spheres. This changing culture was followed by the emergence of sport as a consumer activity, separated from the work place. The emergence of transportation and communication between cities allowed for the growth of athletes while expanding geographic boundaries, specifically within basketball. With the...
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