From high school basketball to the NBA, basketball is an American pastime with a rich, complex history. It doesn’t matter where you hail from – inevitably, you’ve had a run in with at least some form of basketball. The first organized basketball game occurred in Trenton, New Jersey in 1892, and had a portable basketball goal. This game was played inside the Trenton Masonic Temple, and there were no basketball backboards – in fact, the “net” was a wooden basket that had to be emptied each time a player made a basket! This caused basketball to explode across the entire eastern front of the United States. However, basketball’s history transcends much more than just half court shots; it transcends societal norms, cultural equality, and an increasingly rich American history.
It was the year 1916, before the civil rights movement had begun, that the first all-African American basketball conference was formed by nine coaches and faculty members from diverse institutions. Among the institutions were Lincoln, Shaw, Virginia Union, Howard Universities, and last but not least, the Hampton Institute. This conference was called the Central Interscholastic Athletic Association, abbreviated CIAA, and sponsored both unorganized and organized games for young African Americans. However, basketball soon became more than just a game in African American culture; the basketball backboard became an emblem of societal justice, cultural equality, and civil rights. African Americans owned basketball, both on and off the professional court, and used this power to propel their societal oppression upward and outward. The inner city struggles of the African American youth were represented in the game of basketball, and to some extent, still are today
So how does the symbolism of basketball backboards translate into the 21st society? With the civil rights movement still very alive in modern society, the influence and power that African Americans possess in the game of basketball is apparent, and impressive. Take a minute to reflect on basketball hero Michael Jordan. The logo that emblazons him across every Nike ad is a testimony in itself. You’ve seen this symbol – he’s high in the air, legs spread far apart, and his arms are stretched up to the sky for a slam dunk. It’s one of the most widely recognized athletic logos. The reality is that Michael Jordan has worked hard upward and out of societal oppression into a league all his own – professional basketball. This symbol has become an African American symbol of power, equality, and pride. Anything from a portable basketball goal to Nike tennis shoes can be seen sporting this emblem; it’s that powerful.
Interestingly, women’s basketball began to form at almost the exact time as men’s basketball. If you’ve been paying close attention, you probably knew this was coming: Women’s basketball also played a huge part in the achievement of feminine equality among men, specifically within the sports spectrum. At Smith’s College in 1892, a gym teacher modified men’s basketball rules and started an all-female league. Although the basketball backboards may have been lower, and the basketballs a bit softer, it was still a huge step towards establishing female societal equality. Women’s basketball became exceedingly popular over the next three years, and in 1895 intercollegiate games began to form around the country. However, it wasn’t until 1929 that the women’s basketball rules finally gained equal ground with the men’s. That same year, for the first time, an all-women’s team played an all-men’s team – with the men’s rules. This battle of the sexes proved to society that women could play basketball just as well as men – and that women didn’t need the “fluff” of watered-down rules. However, the battle wasn’t completely won: it wasn’t until the 1970’s that women were deemed tough enough to play on a full-scale court.
Today, there’s an overwhelming amount of basketball leagues and levels, ensuring that anyone who wants to play can play. Basketball has reached such a high level of popularity that it brings together even the most diverse of people to cheer on their local team. It’s important to realize the effect of the basketball backboards as emblems among societal groups that work to achieve cultural justice – for all races and both sexes. Basketball truly is an American sport with a rich cultural history that continues to be popular today, whether it’s played on-court or in the middle of the street with a portable basketball goal. Within the last two centuries, basketball has unified the American people, transgressing race, gender, and age.