Three-Sided Basketball

Last summer my friend Stuart (of Sceptical Futuryst fame) introduced me to the work of Asger Jorn and his concept of three-sided football. I was quite taken with Jorn's idea, as it seemed to challenge the type of binary (and symmetrical) thinking that mano-a-mano, home vs. away, favourite vs. underdog, white hat vs. black hat modern team sport fosters.

It is worth noting that Jorn was a founding member of the Situationist International, and a colleague of Guy Debord, since sport was certainly emerging during the post-war period as an important contributor to the society of spectacle. Jorn's Marxist roots and subsequent attempts to move beyond Marxist dialectical thought are apparent in his challenge to the game of football.

Courtesy of Dr. PinkyCourtesy of Dr. Pinky

The diagram on the left shows the hexagonal football pitch, while the diagram on the right shows how out-of-bounds situations (throw-ins, goal kicks, corners) are allocated when the α team touched the ball last. Importantly, the addition of a third team in Jorn's football matches includes the addition of a third goal as well. This bifurcates the possible directions of forward progress or vectors of force that are appropriate at any one time (though this obviously doesn't include the voluntary decision to reverse course and convert excess space into scarce time): which direction does one attack?

Beyond the intersection of critical theory and sport, I was really interested to learn about Jorn's three-sided football because I had theorized a form of three-sided basketball many years ago. (This was before I began sportsBabel; however, a sketch from an old notebook is reproduced below.) As with Jorn's game, there were three goals to correspond with the three teams competing — each team defending a particular goal and creating a sportscape resembling a triangle inscribed within a circle (a hexagon with an infinite number of sidelines?). I, too, sought to challenge the binary of modern team sport though at the time I didn't understand it as such. The difference between Jorn's game and my own, however, is that my game added an extra ball to the field of play.

3-Sided Basketball

If we understand the ball (green circle) as a source of energy or gravitational pull within a sporting space, then what does the addition of a second ball to the three-sided sporting event accomplish? Clearly it serves to divide attention for the hypothetical players, coaches, spectators, referees and media (presuming the latter four parties are present, of course) as any one team must simultaneously be on offence and defence.

The other notable characteristic of my proposed game — given that there are two balls involved — is that each team has an even number (4) of players. This means that to get an advantage when attacking offensively a team has three basic options: use 3 players to attack while only leaving 1 back to defend the goal; send 2 players out and hope to outmanoeuvre the defence while leaving 2 behind to defend the goal; or send 2 players out and form a temporary alliance with a player from the third team to try and gain a numerical advantage on the offensive attack.

This begs the question of how to address score. In Jorn's three-sided football, a team does not count goals they have scored but rather those they have conceded. In my three-sided basketball,

AB AY AR Total
Blue -6 4 2 0
Yellow 4 -5 3 2
Red 2 1 -5 -2

on the other hand, both scoring and defending are important, hence the points conceded are deducted from the points scored against each of the other two teams (AB = against Blue, etc.). Since offensive points as well as conceded points are being tallied the problem of temporary alliances that Jorn was interested in exploring via his triolectic philosophy changes. No longer do we simply form an alliance with a second team in order to score against a third team — the question of who scored matters. If Blue and Yellow form an alliance to score on Red, with Blue ultimately scoring the point, then the trivalent logic suggests that Blue = +1, Red = -1, and Blue has an outstanding debt to Yellow. When Blue and Yellow form an alliance again at some future point, it is expected that Yellow will be afforded a better than even opportunity to score in return.

The actual dynamics of these obligations are dependent upon who has the numerical advantage in players within any particular alliance. For every time Blue sends out 2 offensive players that are joined on the attack by a Yellow player, approximately two-thirds of the points should be scored by Blue; and vice-versa if Yellow is the team that initially sends out 2 players. This requires a sort of real-time game theory calculation in which athletes balance the relative merits of competition and cooperation against historical outcomes while running at top speed towards a goal.

I am really excited to learn more about Jorn's triolectic philosophy and how he applied it to football. But my initial thought is that Jorn didn't go far enough in his deconstruction of binary team sport. The addition of the second ball might be a step further in the triolectic approach. More to follow.

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  1. sportsBabel » Recombinant Football says:

    [...] Football: A reprisal of the three-sided football version proposed by Asger Jorn and the Situationst International to be played on a hexagonal pitch. In this version, however, we [...]