Basketball, The Musical

There's a musical about James Naismith inventing basketball, and it's as weird as it sounds. Weirder still, given that basketball works like music itself.
Share |

 In our day-to-day lives, and to our great good fortune, people do not just burst into song and dance. There are exceptions to this, maybe—wrong turn into a theater camp; some nightmare struck-by-lightning flashmob scenario—but by and large they do not, and certainly they shouldn't. This, or this and the horror of other people singing and dancing and so vigorously emoting their emotions, is why musicals are so rough for me.

"Rough" is, honestly, maybe understating it. I cringe at the dramatic sliding and stomping around the stage, the emphatic rhythmic speech slyly turning into a melody, and then into a song that infects innocent bystanders who magically chime in, in perfect synchrony. The transition from daily life to song and dance is the musical's central conceit, but it also feels like a clumsy trick, an uncommonly dorky hustle. I was watching, after all. Everything was normal and then, out of the blue, there's the eruption of choreographed/chaotic collective delusion. This is maybe not the bravest of stances, but I won’t be part of it.

Basketball, on the other hand, has its own rituals and artificialities and weird rituals, and I will sit through pretty much anything basketball-related. So what to make, then, of the existence of a musical about the invention of basketball? Initially, not much: I’ve read too much idealizing lore about the invention of basketball, too much nostalgic fantasy. So taking the story of James Naismith—the game's patron saint and founding father and so obviously on—and making it a musical made a certain sort of sense. Of coursesomeone adapted this particular basketball myth into the squarest of artistic forms. It's not promising on its face, but there's something to it: what could better express the hyper-romanticized and sentimentalized drama permeating the various narratives of the game’s invention than a musical? Here, it seems, is a perfect target for an archly ironic critique of the purist dream of basketball’s pristine origins. Whether the musical itself would be in on that critique was a different question entirely.

***

Written, directed, and produced by John Grissmer, The Perfect Game: Jim Naismith Invents Basketballshuttles back and forth in time between 1891 and the present. In the present, “The Home Team” prepares for the big game against “Arch Rival,” as a love story develops between the home team’s young interim coach, Frank, and ex-coach Nancy, the former women’s basketball coach who resigned her post and is reassigned to lead the pom-pom squad. Meanwhile, in 1891, Naismith meets and courts his wife to be, Maud.

Naismith himself, aged 31 (as he actually was when he invented basketball in December, 1891) appears to Nancy in the present and takes on a mentoring role: helping her work through and overcome her fraught feelings about coaching and Frank. Meanwhile, at different points in the story, both Nancy and Maud discuss with Naismith aspects of the development of the game subsequent to its invention, in particular the relative importance in basketball of recreation and winning.

Amidst the developing romances, the hype leading up to the “big game,” and the discussions about the evolution of basketball, Grissmer includes several scenes depicting the events leading up to Naismith’s invention of the game. Thus, we see Naismith in a seminar on psychology, claiming that rational, modern principles of invention should be applied to the invention of new games; we see the class of “incorrigible” students complainingly going through their dull gymnastic routines; we see Naismith alone thinking and imagining his way to the new game with its 13 original rules; and we see the unruly class try the game out and take to it immediately. Much of this material recapitulates the story as both historians and Naismith himself, toward the end of his life, recounted it.

Much of it, I say, but not quite all of it. For, despite all the ample evidence to the contrary, including Naismith’s own story of how dribbling emerged accidentally and only in time became a fundamental art of basketball, Grissmer stubbornly insists on portraying Naismith conceiving of the dribble in its modern form as a critical missing piece to the puzzle of his new game.

The ball. (BEAT) The ball will have to be large and light. (BEAT BEAT) So as not to cause injuries. (BEAT) Movement and speed, any direction. No running with the ball. No carrying it against the body. (BEAT) No tackling. No punching the ball. (BEAT BEAT) Pass the ball. Allow an extra step for stopping from a run. (BEAT BEAT BEAT) Pass the ball or bounce it off the floor.

(SOUND STOPS)

Bounce it off the floor? (BEAT) Well, why not? Bounce the ball at a flat angle off the floor to another player. Or – that’s a funny idea – the player could bounce the ball to himself. Hah!

The relative quality of those lyrics aside, that is all fully false. So naturally The Perfect Gamemakes the dribble into the keystone of its version of the game’s invention and subsequent evolution. Thus, in a scene portraying Naismith’s initial encounter with his soon-to-be wife Maud in 1892, a flirtation arises as Naismith demonstrates the dribble, Maud practices it, and then Naismith playfully steals the ball as Maud equally playfully uses her body to protect the ball from his reach, slamming “her butt into him. Hard,” as the stage directions indicate. This happens while the two bust into a duet called “The Dribble.”

Finally, toward the end of the work, as Maud and Jim, now married and looking back at their lives together and at the role of basketball in them, tensions that arise between them as to the value of the game are resolved when James recalls that very first game of basketball in December 1891, and specifically how he instructed the players in the dribble. In Grissmer’s version of the story Naismith’s conscious invention of the dribble becomes both the key Jim and Maud’s winning love story and the catapult for basketball’s worldwide popularity.

Which is okay for the show's purposes, but which makes it more difficult for me to stay out of all this. This falsification of history serves to secure an essential continuity between the game Naismith conceived and the game as it is played today. I’ll go one step further and speculate that this reveals, even as it strives to calm, some anxious questions about the game’s evolution. Has the game strayed too far from its origins? Has winning become too important? Has the game’s popularity, and the media attention and money that it attracted and that have in turned further fueled that popularity, irreversibly distorted the purity of the original game? Maybe more to the point: are these questions even interesting to you?

***

If today’s game is so dramatically different from what Naismith invented, is it still basketball? Or, more alarmingly, if today’s game is basketball, then what the hell do we call what Naismith invented? This is the tricky part: the challenge of what to do, at a deeper affective level, with the scandalous tragedy that things change, that time and the world irresistibly transform the things we love. Having Naismith invent the dribble provides the comforting fantasy that things maybe aren’t so different after all; that some things endure, remain pure and true to original intentions.

There are many good reasons to explore a little more forcefully this critique of anxiety-ridden myths of basketball’s origins, myths which depend upon and try to purvey as truth a belief in basketball having a single, fixed essence, invented a century-and-some ago by a particularly ingenious gym teacher. But there's no need to blow that up, really: it's mostly false on its face, and as unconvincing as any other similarly essentialist argument.

Instead, despite my critical reservations about Grissmer’s fantasy and others like it, and about the medium he chose, I find myself in another argument. I can't stand musicals; I can't stand silly sentimentality about the halcyon past of a sport so alive in the present. But I still find myself wanting to celebrate the existence of this musical and the love of the game that Grissmer expresses through it. It’s okay that the basketball Grissmer cherishes and preserves isn’t the same basketball that I love. It’s even okay that the basketball he imagines never really existed. What’s important is that in creating his musical—and laboring for years against all odds to have it produced—Grissmer was feeling and trying to transmit the same spark of life in the game that I and everyone else who writes about this sport wants to convey in our words about basketball. There's truth, and then there's truth.

***

And this is what basketball can inspire: affective intensities so powerful that they can impel a middle-aged and mostly unknown playwright to dedicate years of his life to a fantastic portrayal of the game’s origin. Despite our differences in point of view, I can’t help but feel empathy and tenderness for—can’t help but identify with—the intensity of attachment to something in basketball that apparently drove Grissmer to create his musical. It’s not so different, really, from what makes any of us write about basketball; it's there on the page in the Why We Watch series, and even in the odd awestruck Tweets that follow a particularly virtuosic Chris Paul moment.

And there is, maybe, a way in which basketball and musicals have some things in common. Both involve unembarrassed exaggerations of aspects of daily life; both generate over-the-top drama and complexity from the constraining matrix of simple elements, rules, and formulas. In this sense, the composer and the point guard have some strange thing in common. And both musicals and basketball invite us to suspend our critical judgment and to be taken in by a spectacle so that our emotions will be stirred, drawn forth, and expressed. This happens on the court, if we're being honest, in just as eruptive and chaotic a manner as it does on the stage.

What’s more, the boy in me whose first discovery of the powers of the game as a player involved dribbling can’t help but feel that there is a truth in Grissmer’s lie; the dribble isthe key to the game, after all, even if the game's inventor didn't discover as much. But this goes beyond my own love of the dribble. The dribble is the key to the game also for reasons relating to the true history of basketball that Grissmer elides in his musical.

The dribble—today a practiced fundamental skill, a tactical maneuver, a much admired form of artistic expression in the game, and actual percussive music itself in that ubiquitous NBA Store/"Carol of the Bells" commercial—was neverimagined, let alone expected or planned. It just happened and from there grew rapidly through myriad contingent factors into what it is today, what it is still becoming.

Or rather, more precisely, a player's body responded to an intractable and seemingly insoluble problem encountered in the course of play—being trapped in a corner with the ball, surrounded by defenders, prohibited from running with it and unable to pass it successfully—by breaking the rules, and so inverting the game. The debates about legality and desirability of dribbling come later. So also do the formalization of the dribble and the reasoned calculation about how to do it best and most effectively.

What’s important is that in an instant, a player’s body reflexively reinvented the game; that, and that the game then accepted and assimilated that foreign body. It’s hard to think of a more apt emblem for the life in basketball and how it works to free itself from what imprisons it. And yet, at the same time, when you see the game through these eyes, you see that every single game of basketball, every single play entails, at least on the micro level, myriad reinventions of the game; myriad exhibitions of a body, in an instant of time, adapting itself and its circumstances into the shape of something we’ve not yet seen.

The life in basketball is a kaleidoscope, an ocean wave, a flame; ceaselessly becoming, like the first player to dribble; ceaselessly freeing itself from what would imprison it. And so, in the end, maybe actually rather like the song and dance that bursts forth from the stiff constraints of daily life in a musical.


Share |

Comments

This continually is amazing to me how bloggers such as yourself can find the time and also the dedication to keep on creating fantastic blog posts. This is wonderful and one of my have to read on the web. I simply want to say thanks .
wedding in tuscany

big deal to buy one shirt just to complete the bin. Then I brought it home and put it in it's rightful spot, and breathed a little sigh of relief.
loft conversions ealing

I visits your site frequently and recommended it to me to read also. The writing style is superior and the content is relevant...
kidkraft

Nice information, valuable and excellent design, as share good stuff with good ideas and concepts, lots of great information and inspiration, both of which I need, thanks to offer such a helpful information here. High PR Blog comments

This continually is amazing to me how bloggers such as yourself can find the time and also the dedication to keep on creating fantastic blog posts. This is wonderful and one of my have to read on the web. I simply want to say thanks .
la capannina di franceschi

The box-pleated skirt is bustled in the back and caught at the sides with wide bands scattered with pearls and crystals....Emergency call electricians London

E-liquid Vape shop The Vaping E-liquid and e-juice Super Store. E-liquid flavors and Vape liquid for all. e-liquid flavors

I was working and suddenly I visits your site frequently and recommended it to me to read also. The writing style is superior and the content is relevant... endocrinologists in nj

Good post but I was wondering if you could write a little more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further...buy research paper cheap

Nigerien, Großbritannien. Wirbelsturm Sandy in den USA. Aber auch in Österreich standen Teile der Steiermark und Kärntens unter Wasser. Das Jahrhunderthochwasser 2002 ist noch allen in Erinnerung. Porsche service

Wow ! This could be one of the most useful blogs we have ever come across on the subject. Actually excellent info ! I’m also an expert in this topic so I can understand your effort.app empire

The CFL Colts weren’t quite the real thing, at least in terms of being an actual NFL team. But in helping Baltimore reclaim a sporting herit111765317 age and history that had been stolen away in the dead of night, they were memorable all the same. Even if no one ever quite figured out what to call them.same day plumbers london

I was working and suddenly I visits your site frequently and recommended it to me to read also. The writing style is superior and the content is relevant... ddos

It proved to be very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained!get traffic

And so, in the end, maybe actually rather like the song and dance that bursts forth from the stiff constraints of daily life in a musical.South Gold Coast Singing

I was getting bore since morning but as soon as I got this link & reached at this blog, I turned into fresh and also joyful too...free movies online

Do it because you know damn well no one should prohibit you from profiting off your name and likeness. Do it because reclaiming your signature will be as freeing as breaking containment and seeing a field of wide open green.Climbing Gear

Here you will learn what is important, it gives you a link to an interesting web page: Ex Factor Guide

Good post but I was wondering if you could write a little more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. brow lash

I think this is one of the most significant information for me. And I m glad reading your article. But should remark on some general things..Book Marketing

has piqued a lot of positive interest. I can see why since you have done such a good job of making it interestingLawn Mowing Service

Do it because you know damn well no one should prohibit you from profiting off your name and likeness. Do it because reclaiming your signature will be as freeing as breaking containment and seeing a field of wide open green.skrot bil

You should mainly superior together with well-performing material, which means that see it: The Woman Men Adore

I visits your site frequently and recommended it to me to read also. The writing style is superior and the content is relevant...cheap tyres

I was working and suddenly I visits your site frequently and recommended it to me to read also. The writing style is superior and the content is relevant... xarelto lawsuit help

Imperijalizam je posljednja etapa rasta kapitalizma, nakon koje počinje nezaustavljivi proces njegovog propadanja i truljenja.SEAWEED FERTILIZER

I really enjoy reading your priceless articles. You give the best information on many topics. I am always impressed with your articles. I hope you'll submit more articles like this in the future as well...chat online with strangers

Those clad in gold t-shirts, glancing up from their pitchers and boots of lager and pilsner, were happy to see any potential future opponent struggle.amazon product research

Thank you for sharing This knowledge. Excellently written article, if only all bloggers offered the same level of content as you, the internet would be a much better place. Please keep it up!fridge repair london

Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
Mortgage Brokers

genres and give a full demo of Bohnanza ("The Bean Game") and Relationship Tightrope. Also in this episode, footage from the holidays, some iPad antics, and lots of magical tricks! Don't miss the "Behind the Scenes" segment at the end!Anonymous Hosting

Great post! I am actually getting ready to across this information, is very helpful my friend. Also great blog here with all of the valuable information you have.
sleep disturbance

Much of this material recapitulates the story as both historians and Naismith himself, toward the end of his life, recounted it.Toronto Prom Limousine

Great post! I am actually getting ready to across this information, is very helpful my friend. Also great blog here with all of the valuable information you have.
obstructive sleep apnea

I was working and suddenly I visits your site frequently and recommended it to me to read also. The writing style is superior and the content is relevant...san francisco tax attorney

frequently and recommended it to me to read also. The writing style is superior and the content is relevant..
conversions cambridge

Great post! I am actually getting ready to across this information, is very helpful my friend. Also great blog here with all of the valuable information you have. Keep up the good work you are doing here.the respect principle

On my website you'll see similar texts, write what you think. Talk To His Heart

One should also be aware that as the blade of a ceramic knife is sharper than that of a stainless steel knife, it is far easier to cut oneself when using a ceramic knif.
more info

I use basically superior fabrics : you will discover these products by: The Instant Switch Review

I would suggest you to remove the idea from your mind about to different theme. You cannot add two Google analytic
click

I was working and suddenly I visits your site frequently and recommended it to me to read also. The writing style is superior and the content is relevant... san francisco tax attorney

Without a doubt in my mind, this is one of the best articles that I've read in recent times. Really amazed after reading this!
The best trading winning strategy for binary options

The traditional employer-employee relationship that links nature to culture is reversed, and never recovered. Look at the portraits of Arcimboldo remains then, as now, a duty, that tells us who we were and where we are going. junk removal Denver Colorado

Good post but I was wondering if you could write a little more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further...Victorino Noval and Manny Pacquiao

I would suggest you to remove the idea from your mind about to different theme. You cannot add two Google analytic. .Victorino Noval Foundation sets the record straight

I exploit solely premium quality products -- you will observe these individuals on: What Men Secretly Want Review

I am happy to find this post very useful for me, as it contains lot of information. I always prefer to read the quality content and this thing I found in you post. Thanks for sharing. ./ packers and movers pune to hyderabad

post!It is one of the best way to provide consulting.like the way you presented your article here. Looking forward for your next details about active marketing strategies.
wholesale argan oil producer morocco distributor worldwide