The Basketball Reformation: Fact or Fiction?

Our story really begins about 200 years ago in a small Midwestern country village. A young 30-something visionary started getting a lot of positive press after making premier wines and pioneering some astonishing medical cures. The people of the times were restless, not satisfied with the old humdrum pastimes of baseball and cornhole so the visionary went into action. He recognized the need for a new game, one that would take the world by storm and promise years and years of enjoyment. He nailed a wooden peach basket to a tree, basketball was founded, and people began to follow the game with a passion.

The Beginning:

The founder spent three years traveling the countryside introducing people to the new game. Touring with a small group of teammates, he demonstrated the fundamental skills and gave guidelines as to how to play the game. He wasn’t much for writing, rather, he left it to his core followers to teach the game and see to the league expansion. Before he had to leave, he established league officials with the authority to properly teach in his absence. He told these original league officials to spread the spirit of the game to the entire world. With that said and done, one day he was gone.

The game proved to be immensely popular and more and more people followed the games with great interest. By the thousands, people wanted to learn to play. Proponents of other games were not happy with this competition and made life very difficult for the fledgling league. Riots and death threats were common in the beginning but the league officials were not deterred. Actually some of the original 12 officials were killed in the riots. Thank God that the founder anticipated such problems. If an official died, a replacement was to be elected. Renewed in leadership, the league continued teaching the truth of the founder and the game continued to grow and grow.

As the game expanded, the league officials soon realized (as the founder obviously knew) they needed to formalize and expand the league structure if the game was to survive. The game and league rules were written down in a 73 chapter book that was used to teach the game. They appointed and trained referees to officiate the local games, and gave them specific authority to act in the name of the founder himself. Despite the persecution from competing games and people that wanted to change the rules, basketball flourished as the founder intended.

Infirmity in the Game:

Unfortunately, despite the growth of basketball in the world, all was not joy in Mudville. After about 100 years, some league officials lost sight of the spirit of the game. They began to exploit the financial opportunities. The selling of expensive box seats, team jerseys and advertising deals became their first priority. A few referees even began betting on the games they were officiating! Pete Rose would have been proud.

Treat the Cancer, Kill the Patient:

A couple of players and referees started to complain to the league officials but all petitions to clean up things fell on deaf ears. The officials even threatened to throw these dissenters out of the league if they didn’t keep quiet. People rightfully became upset and began to organize. One referee in particular spearheaded the call for change. He loved basketball and didn’t want to see the game destroyed. Oh for the good old days, he thought! If only everyone saw the beauty of basketball like I do, then the founder’s vision would be fulfilled. One day on the locker room wall, he posted a list of 95 complaints so that all the players, referees and league officials could see.

Unfortunately, instead of cleaning up the obvious abuses in the league, this list of complaints called for sweeping changes that forever changed the game.

The first change needed was the rejection of the authority of the league officials and the referees. No longer would the players be subject to any authority. Without referees, the players were thus left to call their own fouls. Without referees, the players would decide when a basket was made, or who stepped out of bounds or double-dribbled. Actually, without referees, even keeping score was unnecessary and was eliminated. There would be no keeping score to determine the winners and losers. The game was no longer about winning and losing but about participation. The successful participation would be declared at the end by the players themselves. Everyone was now a referee left to their own interpretation of the rules. Not too surprisingly, all the players considered themselves winners.

Second, player skill was determined to be an unreasonable burden on the purity of the modern game. Certainly the founder did not intend player skill development to be important. In order that the modern players weren’t tempted to desire skills like previous champions, the hall of fame was eliminated. All records of past basketball greats and their influence on current players were ignored. Being a good player was not necessary. The belief that you were a good player was all thought necessary to be successful at basketball.

Third, the reformers eliminated all of the obligations imposed by the league officials such as mandatory practice, team meetings and curfews. All coaching staffs were eliminated. Along with player skills, individual player behavior was judged to be a non-essential part of basketball.

Fourth: Since the league rule book contained several chapters that addressed now “unnecessary” items such as league organization and authority, player development, mentoring assistance by former players (dead and alive), score keeping, referees, team meetings and practices, several (actually seven) chapters of the old rule book were discarded.


Reflection on the Modern Game:

The so-called Reformation of Basketball took place 50 years ago but not without seismic impacts. The tremors of change continue to resonate today with disastrous effects on the game of basketball. There are over 2.3 billion players today of which about half remain in the original league. Immediately following that first list of 95 complaints, others complained about that list, claiming that only they had the true and proper spirit of the game.

But immediately, another group surfaced, and another and another, claiming that only they had were right… and this has continued for 50 years. All of these splinter groups went off and formed their own league with their own (often massively different) set of rules and schedules. It is a true fact today, that the game of “basketball” has been so contorted as to mean virtually nothing, especially to outsiders. Yeah, the word “basket” may be in the name of all the splinter leagues, but other than that small hint that a basket is involved, the word provides no meaning as to the game, it’s play, or goals.

The founder had a vision of a single game bringing people together in joyful eternal play. Many in the world are looking for a game to play and as they consider “basketball” they often see infighting and court brawls. Seeing confusion and even hypocrisy at times, they just continue looking for another game. Tragically many stop looking altogether or reject sports our of hand.

Did the original league established by the founder get a little messed up along the way? Certainly! Did the original league need reform? Certainly, it did and always will. There’s always room to tighten up and make things better. But, in that ongoing process of adjustment and reform, we must not, out of pride or misdirected zeal, instead implement a revolt. We must always be committed to preserving the love of the game!

Concluding Comment:

Most readers I’m sure were not aware of the preceding short story. Some will judge it as mere folly – pure imagination with no pedigree in fact. To others it might sound just a little familiar. Did the basketball reformation really occur? Did the game exist? Does the game still exist?

You decide.


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