Hip Hop x Basketball -- 1: Humble Beginnings

1: Humble Beginnings
     We all know the story of basketball’s beginnings. Dr. Naismith was commissioned with the creation of an indoor activity to keep kids in his YMCA busy on rainy days or in the harsh New England winters in Springfield, MA.  In a dearth of seed money or other outside resources, a peach basket was nailed to a wall ten feet in the air and the objective was to throw the ball (then a soccer ball – specifically-designed basketballs wouldn't come until later) into the basket within the constraints of a set of rules he had written out prior to nailing the baskets up.

Compared to what “basket-ball” – as a then-skeptical Dr. Naismith called the game in his diaries – would become, it really doesn’t seem feasible that beginnings get more humble than that.  From his brainchild, the activity became sport played in YMCAs throughout the US, spreading through the rest of North America as well and eventually into high schools and colleges en route to taking hold as an organized and regulated sport with the Great Doctor’s rules evolving with the changing times and advances in equipment, such as symmetrical specifically-designed-for-basketball balls, opening the bottom of the baskets, and the use of a backboard.  Rather than being cast aside, basketball was accepted and spun into the programs at YMCAs and schools pretty quickly.

Basketball, as it were, was such a big draw due to its less-than-consumptive equipment and personnel requirements.  With only one ball, five players on each side all requiring very little in the way of necessary special safety equipment and a game that could be reasonably regulated by one or two referees at the time.  For non-organized games, the “officiating” could (and usually is) be reasonably handled by the participants themselves.
Ease of involvement on this level made basketball just as easily-installed as a game of recreation as it was as a competitive one – all one needs is a flat surface abutting a place where a flat board to which a hoop could be mounted and a ball sized well enough to fit through it at a reasonable rate of successes per attempts.  Even with Chuck Taylor’s 1935 re-design of the basketball itself to the 8-panel ball that we still see in use to this very day, the cost of a dedicated basketball was far from prohibitive.  Comparison of these requirements and given consideration of the low maintenance requirements of it all, there should be no genuine wonder as to why basketball courts began popping up on school playgrounds and in public parks all over the United States, often displacing or witnessing the unchecked decay of comparatively higher-maintenance baseball fields that began to take hold in the late 80s and early 90s and continues to this day.

     As with basketball, a great many of us know the history of hip hop, from the house parties and in the parks of the South Bronx in and around the legendary 1520 Sedgwick Avenue.  Initially, we were given an amalgamation of poetry, Jamaican “toasting,” set to backdrops consisting of break beats of established records looped by the DJs of the time possessing a keen ear and well-trained hands to keep the beat going for extended enough periods of time the rappers to keep doing what they did.  Newly excited by a medium of entertainment featuring people who looked, sounded and lived like they did and simultaneously empowered by a culture that openly accepted their fashion, their general activities and art, and hip hop was born.

Hip hop quickly became and rooted itself as a medium for the drawing of similarly-minded people together to a common interest and grew from a the small house and block parties to the ostensibly more lucrative club parties, to the guaranteed more lucrative for-retail-sales recordings, to the machine that we all know and some of us even continue to love to this day, filling arenas worldwide.

     The glue connecting the two activities was the “anyone can be included” feeling indelible to the mediums that happened to be both basketball and hip hop when taken at their surfaces.  With few supplies, none of which being particularly expensive or difficult to source, you’ve quickly gone from standing around with as few as three to as many as nine friends to being fully ensconced in your best impersonation of your favorite ball player.  Similarly, it takes not much more than someone banging out a rhythm on a table for you to get into the zone in which you are your favorite rapper for the amount of time that it will take to repeat his (or perhaps your own) verses.
While far from intended, given who came up with hip hop and where, why and how they did it compared to basketball, they seem the most natural blood brothers when spoken of as if they were human beings, despite being dreamt into existence more than 80 years apart.

Despite the elder of the mediums having had a generations-long head-start, the explosion of popularity of the two would be largely parallel.  Lessening the blow doled by the “pay-to-play” element made the either of them much more easily gotten into by people whose parents might not be able to afford the necessary gear for a collision sport like Football or Hockey on one medium; or special instruments (or the necessary lessons to play them) for another musical medium on the other.  Given the advantages given to both basketball and hip hop on that particular level, there’s no surprise that the two share popularity in the same demographic and often do so at the same time.

Like the interest of the participants in either would go on to experience in their own rights as time progressed, hip hop and basketball were born from the simple necessity that comes with needing to create something from very little.  We know that Dr. Naismith was skeptical of what he had created, specifically of how viable it could be expected to remain in the long-term.  What we do not know directly from the fathers of hip hop is whether or not they legitimately felt that they had created something that would become as popular as it did, and that it would grow as swiftly as we witnessed.  Given the personal nature of it, being a method of expression for people in the neighborhoods with them, it doesn’t necessarily feel as if they did.  Either way, and very much to the successes of both the best of the participants and those tasked with marketing them, both basketball and hip hop music would go on to belie their no-frills meager beginnings and become majorly profitable machines.  What one may neglect to notice is how much of the creation of their respective machines came as cooperation, even while not in competition with one another.

     As with anything of this nature, the journey has not been easy or obvious, and it is far from over.  There have been times where the intersection of the two mediums has become more complicit than they were apparently ever intended to be, but when things wind up going as well as they have over the years, there is no problem with that.


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