Volumetric Boundaries

baseball power

Baseball's anachronism is that it still favours power over speed (borne out as an optimization strategy in quantitative 'sabermetric' analysis); whereas basketball, football, hockey in particular — while once celebrating power in greater proportion — have all reversed the equation today to favour speed over power; meanwhile volleyball and tennis stand perhaps as the best examples in which the development of speed and power have maintained a relatively stable balance.

One imagines in baseball this is due to the relatively discrete separation of offensive and defensive bodies during play on a baseball field, which stands in stark contrast to the immediate intermingling of bodies that occurs in basketball, football, and hockey (after the brief formalist separation of bodies that indicates an address to one's opponent in advance of the agonistic event — ie. the jump ball, snap, or faceoff).

But don't volleyball and tennis have an even more discrete separation of bodies, given the net that separates both teams? True.

Baseball tilts the equation in favour of power because the ball is not required to stay in the park in order to score: the possibility of the home run encourages the balance of skill to tilt heavily in the direction of power.

volleyball power

Volleyball and tennis do not necessarily require the ball to stay in the court, either, so long as the ball hits the ground on the opponent's side before exiting the space of play. Not over a wall with no possibility for defensive intervention, as with baseball, but spiked to a floor with all of the defense waiting for your very stroke, power and speed required to score the point.

(This leads to the question of speed and power in cricket, for example, which also does not require the ball to stay in the park during play but permits batting in a 360-degree direction, as opposed to baseball's 90-degree home run; etcetcetc for other sports.)

pulse, relay, switch

high five

The ways in volleyball and basketball that hand touches — high fives, low fives, fist bumps, etc. — maintain an energetic and affective flow throughout an athletic context, during play as well as during stoppages: congratulating, rewarding, acknowledging, affirming, but also dissipating sad passions, situational failures, and the like.

The difference between the two is largely structural: volleyball centralizes and ritualizes the hand touches, with all 6 players on the floor coming together after each point for a group exchange that appears quite indifferent to whether a point was scored or surrendered. In basketball, meanwhile, the hand touches are more distributed through the 5-player system as multiple haptic relays and switches, one player high-fiving another one here, another over there, and yet again; the energy staying on the move, diffuse, leaking into defensive transition opportunities and brief game stoppages as an occurrent "computational art" based on physical proximity, tempo, context, and event.


Spurs ball movement

Spurs ball movement

if you want to see a xenointelligence with "affective computational" potential, watch 5 basketball players (or indeed an entire team) when they're in a state of flow with great ball movement.

Desperation Moves


In certain modern team sports there are a number of what we may describe as normative, yet legal, "desperation moves" that the team losing a contest may attempt as time begins to run out — provided the deficit is reasonably surmountable. In hockey, for example, the losing team will pull the goaltender in favour of an extra attacking skater; in basketball, a team will foul deliberately in order to force the other team to immediately shoot free throws; in gridiron football, there is the onside kickoff, etc.

Strategically, we might abstract these three examples as follows: in hockey, given the particular status (and equipment) that characterizes the goaltender, the attempt is to create an asymmetry in the number of attacking skaters and put pressure in the opposing zone. In basketball, constrained as it is by a required player symmetry, the attempt is to dilate the temporal parameters of the game, "extending" it by rapidly fouling and hopefully trading off multiple 1-point shots for 2- or 3-point shots at the other end. Gridiron football is also constrained by symmetry, on the one hand, but does not have regular and rapid turnover of possession either, and thus its attempt with the onside kick is to overload a space — or more precisely, to swarm a proximity.

In each case we witness a malleable, plastic quality — stretching, contracting, spasming — that over enough contests will have a statistically significant ability to turn the tide of victory in the timespaces of zero-sum athletic enclosure.

a new relationship to the law


Technically Speaking


A basketball player gets whistled for a technical foul and a free throw is awarded to the other team as a penalty. Almost always outside the normative range of what constitutes a foul in the game — actually making bodily contact with an athlete on the opposing team — the technical is precisely what it says it is: a technicality that has been broken in the juridical structure that is the basketball league proper, most often a behavioural infraction against what is considered good sportsmanship. Some of these juridical prohibitions are universal across leagues, while some are unique to the league itself.

(Usually in the courts of mainstream civil society, it is one who is declared not guilty who gets off on a technicality. Not so in basketball, in which the technicality is always on, always assigned as a penalty against which there is next to no opportunity for recourse or exoneration.)

A basketball player steps up to the line to shoot the free throw. Though it is meant to be an award or restitution for the technicality that has been broken, it is actually quite a difficult shot. This is because the restitution exists somehow outside the normal context of play: the shooter goes to the line alone while the rest of the players must stand and watch out at midcourt, unlike the regular free throw situation in which players from each team line up in staggered formation along both sides of the painted key to rebound the potentially missed shot.

But there is no rebound to be had with the technicality. Again it exists outside of game play, which is to say it exists outside of the game's historical time. And further, it exists outside of its usual relations: while not having the players line up for a rebound is meant to be less distracting for the shooter, their absence is actually quite viscerally felt, a denuding of the multiple body's co-composition that leaves the one shooting very naked and alone.

So on the one hand a player gets whistled for a technicality, but it is paradoxically the one who has been offended (or their agent) who will face the intensity of exposure in exacting a restitution. And the purportedly cybernetic technique of shooting free throws reveals its limits in turn: it is the messiness and chaos of co-present bodies — even if they are competitors — that lubricates this technical machine towards its successful realization.