Basketball is Controlled Anarchy

Photo by MontyLov

Basketball is a great game. I suggest such an idea knowing it’s been years since I’ve given much attention to sports in general (I have much more fun being the casual fan).

But basketball is a great game, for two reasons:

First, it’s simple. Someone who has never seen a game before can pick it up quickly. (The players try to put the one round thing in the other round thing. They have to dribble to move with the ball. And they can’t touch each other.) OK, sure, there are plenty of nuances missing, but the basics are simple. It’s not like trying to pick up hockey or American football, which look like chaos to the newcomer.

Second, it requires all-around athleticism. It’s not like baseball where some of the biggest names in the game were overweight in their prime. Basketball players must have strength, agility, speed, and skill to be successful, no matter which position they play.

But, as great of a game as basketball is, I’ve never been able to get hooked on it.

The last minute of a relatively close basketball game can feel like it goes on forever. That’s because, in basketball, the rules change in the last couple minutes of the game.

Throughout any game, it’s not in a team’s interest to commit fouls (which is why a foul is called a foul). But in the last minute, one team can intentionally foul the other team to earn an advantage. The advantage exists because the maximum number of points the fouled team can earn shooting foul shots is 2 (and it takes two shots to achieve both points), while the fouling team can earn 2 or 3 with a single shot. So, played correctly, one team can slowly whittle away a lead with by committing intentional fouls and shooting well from the field.

The even weirder part of this last-minute chaos is that there is a rule called an intentional foul that adds a harsher penalty to a team when the foul was intentionally committed. Yet, intentional fouls are almost never called in the last minute, despite nearly every one being intentional.

My guess is the reason this part of the rulebook is overlooked is because it makes games more exciting. It provides a 1-minute-remaining-10-point game with the opportunity to come down to the wire. And at that point, the team that is leading is at massive disadvantage, because if they continue to be fouled, they only get to take shots worth a single point, while they trailing team is free to take shorts worth 2 or 3.

I’m not sure when this came about or why it was allowed to continue, but it makes basketball feel elementary. It’s one sport where children’s backyard pickup games come packaged with a better rulebook that the pros have. And it’s the only sport (I know of) where breaking the rules provides a team with an advantage.

Basketball is controlled anarchy.


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