Flea, Basketball and Democracy

The NBA has a Blog Squad now, which I am sort of loathe to mention, since they don't seem to understand (or perhaps they wish to control) some of the basic characteristics of blogs, such as permalinks to individual posts and commenting. Nonetheless, there is a great outpouring of passion on the blog from Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who is a die-hard Lakers fan and is part of the Blog Squad. In an interesting post (which of course I can't link directly to), Flea reminds us that:

as is with jazz music

basketball, being america's greatest export

is the finest example of what is great about a democracy

people working together within a structure to accomplish something

but free to express their individual character as they like

to improvise on a theme

Oh yes, Flea, I'm feelin' ya! In fact, I've thought similar things here before on sB.


Many times I wondered with envy why I couldn't jam like jazz musicians are so often wont. Then I finally realized that jazz musicians probably thought the same thing about pickup basketball players. It's the same thing! Both create with a loose set of rules and peers that bring myriad skills to the mix. Where the jazz ensemble offers a pulsing bass to complement a burning sax, the cagers counter with sweet guard penetration for a no-look bounce pass to the backdoor cutter. Sometimes there's successes, sometimes there's failures. It's the same thing…

The brilliance of Flea's post (beyond its poetic structure), is its implicit recognition that there is something political about the way that basketball is played as a sport — specifically, something democratic. But I have to take issue with him for not taking the analysis one step further: it is PICKUP basketball that is the purest expression of what he is describing as democratic, not the hyper-controlled NBA variant that he is so fond of following.

Flea could have written his post in very dry English, with perfect Strunk and White grammar to boot. But he didn't — rather, he found the gaps and spaces in the structure of language to convey his ideas far more beautifully. Similarly, the pickup basketball player finds the gaps and spaces in the language of James Naismith to convey his ideas more beautifully.

Therein lies the true democratic potential of the sport, which I hope to articulate more clearly with Global Village Basketball.


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