The erotic of basketball.

Yves de Saá Guerra, Ph.D.


Perhaps many of us think that basketball is nothing more than a group of corpulent bums, a bit stocky, who run in shorts behind an orange ball. If you think that, first, rethink your love for life. And second, read on and enjoy, because sport is a cultural phenomenon, and as such, it has to be understood.

By admiring a work of art, as we learn more about the background of such artistic expression, our perception changes. Who and why created it, the style used; or understand concepts such as space, composition and color, in pictorial or sculptural works; or the harmony, the rhythm and the cadence, in musical or literary works, will make poetry go from being a mere bunch of rhymes, to an experience that gives us the creeps. To be able to delight in creativity.

When a player crushes the basket with the ball and achieve to score, what is known in basketball slang as making a “dunk”, is usually one of the most spectacular actions because it represents an exhibition of plasticity and strength. Running and rising in the air may seem simple, but it is not. In fact, this phenomenon draws the attention of men of science: transforming kinetic energy (horizontal displacement) into potential energy (vertical displacement) with an external object in the hands (ball) is not very common in nature. Or even, apprehending it in the air (what is known as alley-hoop). And we must add that, probably, with a few rivals trying to avoid it at all costs.

This game action, and almost all others in basketball, require great coordination both at the individual level: feet, hands, oculus-manual, oculic-pedic, etc., and externally: ball, teammates, opponents, time, space, etc. A whole display of spontaneous inventiveness. And this is where the natural beauty of the unexpected lies. What keeps fans in suspense. What slows our heart beats as if we had the absolute dominion of our being, and time lost its meaning. And just at that moment, all the wild force that makes us feel alive explodes. As if each of us had pushed with our bare hand that ball in order to score. This is how each possession in basketball is lived.

Basketball is a fast, exciting, intense game, where game actions are continually given, not only with the ball, but there is a whole philosophy about how to play without it. As Ortega y Gasset said: I am me and my circumstances, and in sport there is an environment-sports duality. It is not possible to understand a team or an athlete separated from their environment. For example, Lithuanians understand basketball (in Lithuania basketball is the national sport) in a different way than the Croatians do, or Puerto Ricans. Their play style is very different. That is why we cannot conceive a team as the mere sum of the individual talent of its players. The Dream Team (the US basketball team that won the gold medal in Barcelona 92) was much more than good players. We must approach from a more holistic conception: the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

In fact, in a basketball game, even if the conditions are exactly the same, the output or outputs can lead to various results that cannot be known beforehand. Therefore, in a game situation there are many possibilities that we can consider adequate to solve the motor problem. This is known as a nonlinear system.

Experts classify cyclic movements (reproducing a motor pattern such as artistic gymnastics) and acyclic movements (where you get by on your own to move forward, throw or run). Performance, in cooperation-opposition sports (there are also team sports that are only cooperative, such as rowing or bobsleigh) is supported by adequate levels of strength and a metabolic base that ensures the energy pathway for each motor action. The technique is the depuration of body movements for the correct application of strength and metabolism levels. You are right. Better skill than strength. Therefore, in cooperation-opposition sports, the basis of this non-linearity is decision making. The key in sport. The ability to develop creative responses to a situation using own resources. That is, the appeal of basketball lies in seeing how ***** the team solves the problem. And that situation is occurring continuously and simultaneously for both contestants throughout the game.

The quality of this output or outputs is given by precision, synchronization (coordination with colleagues, opponents, time and space) and sequencing (context). This process is constantly readjusted through feedback mechanisms that favor a proportionate result. Yes, it is important to know how to pass, but it is more important to know when to pass. And whom.

Keep in mind that as the game progresses, the strategies are shaping more and more, in order to scratch every second as much as possible. Even keep in mind that in basketball you can score with the time stopped (a free throw) or concluded: when the player throws before the game or possession time is over and score after game time ends. This means that teams have to control in detail the regulatory aspects of the game, such as fouls, game time or possession, times outs, etc. The amount of information they handle is huge. The performance of a team can be postulated as winning as many matches as possible. This results from the synchronous interaction of certain optimization states of the systems that form it, which also have a reciprocal relationship with the emerging environment: the competition.

It is very important to know the category or format of the competition. An open league, where there are promotions and demotions, is not the same that a closed league, where participating teams are always the same. The competitive model significantly influences the performance of the league. The ability of the teams for competing and how the championship works (competition design), determines the level of competitiveness. Thus, the more competitive a competition (the more difficult it is to find out the final result), the more attractive it will be for the audience and will generate greater benefits (tickets, sponsors, television rights, etc.). The extension or reduction of the participating teams, the classification system (such as the present world cup), the modification of the rules or the negotiation of salaries can significantly affect these levels. A competition must ensure uncertainty in the final classification. The more favorite teams, better.

The DNA of a basketball game is the score. It is what determines the winner. The time and the evolution of scoring do not follow a symmetrical behavior, but there are different behaviors in terms of time ranges. These skewness indicate a non-linear nature (several valid solutions), resulting from the game actions between the two opposing teams. The evolution of the marker shows a stochastic behavior. Scoring runs supposedly reflect a random dynamic, similar to the Brownian movement. We cannot know in advance how the scoring dynamics of a basketball game will be. Hence, it is so attractive because it is constantly changing. In professional basketball teams usually score every twenty seconds on average. So far, it is rational considering that the possession time is twenty-four seconds. But the dynamics of scoring a basketball game is very complex. A basketball game is divided into four equal time periods (10 minutes for FIBA ​​basketball and 12 minutes for NBA basketball).

There are completely unpredictable periods, others without memory and others with memory (where the system learns and repeats). Periods where a type of actions such as fast break prevail, or periods where the ball is retained more in order to play in defense, such as the final moments of each quarter (yes. We can play in defense with possession of the ball. This prevents that the opposing team scores, reducing the number of possessions of the adversary). And even moments of the game so complex that they can be considered a game in themselves. We refer to the last minute. And, in basketball, there is nothing decided until the last second.

The sport richness of the last minute is unparalleled. The strategies and the adjustments of the teams in the last minute of the game are so meticulous, that, the one second time differences between baskets are overwhelming majority. That is, scoring is produced almost continuously (if the difference in points between the two teams is lower or equal to 11 points: Closed games). Let´s imagine the tension, the nerves, the concentration, the decision-making of the players and the coaching staff (without being part of the agents that carry out the action, their role is decisive). And maybe, in the end of the game time, all will be decided with a three at the buzzer over two defenders. Everything is possible. All concentrated in an eternal minute.

All this points out the team. Well, how does a basketball team work? This is the one million question. This issue has driven crazy sports coaches and scientists for a long time. Obviously, because everyone wants to find out the magic formula to make their team win. Find the team archetype. You do not want? I do! Basketball is famous because although a team is losing by many points, there are epic comebacks, baskets in the last second (or with the time already finished), games with infinite overtimes (if a game ends in a draw, overtimes are played as it is necessary until a winner is proclaimed), incredible baskets, amazing team plays and where the “weak” wins the big one more times than you could think.

When you go to watch a game, observe players movements, what they do, and whether they succeed or not, and if they change their strategy based on success or failure. In short, how the game flow develops. Who absorbs more game, who distributes the game and who goes unnoticed doing the “dirty work”.

You will hear often many experts in basketball declaring: you have to move the ball. Intuitively, we know that this how we can get some advantage. But, epistemologically, it is not so simple. Defenders collaborate in order to hamper the progress of the opposing team and prevent it from scoring. But at the same time attackers try to overcome defenders to get a basket using their skills. It is a cooperation-opposition sport.

It is very difficult to know in advance how the players will behave. But we observe how there are patterns that arise spontaneously responding to tactical or survival needs in the game. The multiple local interactions between teammates and adversaries (non-linear mainly) influence each other and afford the game a critical profile. In addition, teams “learn”. They are able to restructure and modify their game flow in order to meet new needs that arise from the game, to score and avoid scoring. And these types of processes are exhibited throughout the game time simultaneously and continuously. There are not two basketball games alike. Even if the same teams face in exactly the same conditions.

So far, no demiurge has blessed us with the gift of sports clairvoyance, and perhaps this curse is, at the same time, a blessing. Thus, let’s enjoy watching who wins, and how he does it. because happiness lies in the creative beauty of the spontaneous.

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