Have we been looking in the wrong place–politics and religion–when we should be looking to a sport to save us? In this (fun) episode, Sean and Scott discuss a recent book called How Basketball Can Save the World, by NYU professor David Hollander. They discuss certain life principles that can be garnered from basketball and assess the idea of whether or not basketball can save us.

Episode Transcript

Sean: Can basketball save the world? Have we been looking in the wrong place, politics and religion, when we should be looking to a sport to save us? Today, we're going to discuss a fascinating book by a professor at NYU named David Hollander, and it's titled “How Basketball Can Save the World.” Before we get to the book and some of the stories that we love, some principles we agree with, some things we might take issue with, I want to know your general take on this book because I'll tell you, Scott, he had me at hello. I read this to my wife. He starts off and he says this. He says, “It's like this. I walk by a basketball court, any court I stop, full stop. If they're playing, I'll hang out for a while just to watch, to hear basketball sounds, lose myself, forget time.” He says, “I see it as an existential matter, as if without it, I'm not really even here.” Now, that might sound over dramatic to some of our viewers, but just think of something that you love. Maybe some people love to surf. Maybe people love to read, work on a car, art. I've always felt that way about basketball. So when Covid hit, I thought my days were done at 40– playing days. And my son, who's in high school, he goes, “Dad, let's play. I got no one to play with.” And I laced up my shoes. And for a year we played and I could compete with him in high school players. It was like I felt alive. It was one of the hidden blessings in that time. So when he starts off, here's somebody who loves the game of basketball. And he's talking about big theological cultural issues. I'm all in. What was your take?

Scott: Well, I think full disclosure for all of our viewers, Sean and I are both basketball junkies. We both played. Sean played a little longer than I did competitively. But, you know, I continued to play on blacktop as an adult until I was almost 60. Wow. And I love the game. OK. You know, there was no substitute for it. I probably shortened the life of my ankles and feet as a result of that. But it was all worth it. And there was something about being on the court. And you and I, we both coached our kids, coached club teams for our kids. I mean, I think I at last count, I think I had 13 years in a row.

Sean: Wow.

Scott: Where I coached at least one team. sometimes two and was commissioner of the league for several years after I couldn't get enough.

Sean: That's awesome.

Scott: So I think, you know, I mean, yeah, when I, you know, how basketball that was good enough for me. It didn't really matter what came after that. I was all in to read this.

Sean: OK, now here's the premise of the book I think will help people out. Like he starts off pretty quickly and he dives into what's wrong with the world. So the economy is broken, eroded trust in the media, climate destruction, desperation and loneliness, like the modern government is broken, all of the broken things we would agree on. But what's unique about this is he actually sees basketball as the solution to fix it. Now, at the beginning, I thought, I don't know if this is kind of tongue in cheek, but you get the impression reading it, that he really believes–

Scott: No, it's not tongue in cheek. It's not.

Sean: He really believes basketball can fix the world. I mean, he mentions racism in here, gender relations. And what's interesting though, is he talked, he actually calls it a new “ism.” So he says in here, he says, we have things like, he says, there's capitalism, socialism, communism, nationalism, theism. And he says, basketball is a new ism. So he sees it not only as a sport, but it lays out 13 principles. And that's because Naismith, when he created a game of basketball, had 13 principles. And he says, here's principles that we'll get into. He thinks can

actually save the world. So he's dead serious. He thinks basketball can actually fit the world.

Scott: Well, and he's been teaching a course on this at NYU for many, many years and has more students in his class than he knows what to do with. So it's been immensely popular. And there's something that resonates about this. Now, I think we'll have to talk about how consistent some of the solutions he proposes are with a Christian worldview, because he's definitely not coming from that. That's right. And that becomes pretty apparent that I think at the very beginning. But I don't think he's hostile to religious faith. It's just, this is, that's not, those aren't the lenses through which he's seeing the world. But part of, I think what was so fun about the book for me was all the stories that are these little known facts about basketball history, that you have to be a bit of a basketball junkie to to appreciate, but I think some of the stuff, like some of the stories about what a character Wilt Chamberlain was, he was, I mean, I mean, he was easily the most dominant player of his era, maybe the most dominant player that basketball has ever seen, but he was this incredible character as well, that was, you know, played practical jokes on his teammates, was this brilliant business person. And then some of the stuff that I didn't know about the founding of the game when Naismith set out to found the game. But he didn't just think about, you know, this was a great idea for something to do inside in the winter, where you put up a couple of peach baskets and do the best you can. What he did was he was looking for a game that would teach some virtues to, I think what we would, what we would call highly at risk kids. And so he took, it was part of his ministry. He is a Presbyterian minister. And I think he, he remained, he remained a Presbyterian minister, even though he was in other organizations. I don't think as Hollander, I think is wrong about that, that he sort of gave up his pulpit calling. I don't think that was ever really the case. And he made it sort of sound like he was giving up his faith as well, becoming more of a, more of a humanist at the time.

Sean: Hold that thought for a second. We'll come back to his worldview.

Scott: But I thought how he used the game to promote many of the virtues and values that Hollander's picking up on, that was part of the original intent, was to try and get at-risk kids to get along better and to be more harmonious.

Sean: So there are some fun facts in this book. Think about this, and this will come back in our discussion. There are more basketball fans in China than there are people in the United States. That blew me away, but makes sense. The first basketball game was played on women's collegiate sports in the late 1890s between UC Berkeley and between Stanford. Now that jumped out to me because my wife played college basketball. I played here at Biola. She played at Vanguard at the same time. That was interesting. Then he talks about during the Jim Jones massacre in 1978. The son of Jim Jones was leading a basketball team away and they refused to come back when there was the mass suicide. There's just these fascinating stories tied to basketball I wouldn't have expected. Now, here's why he picks basketball as a model. He says it's the ultimate team sport. There's something about every player according to James Naismith, could be at any point on the floor at any time. So it's not like baseball that's ultra positional. It's not like football. You play offense or you play defense. And he's not saying this is better or worse. He's just saying he was trying to build the game. And even the spacing is so much smaller and more intimate than on a soccer field. So he sees this, the author does, David Hollander, as kind of a model for social interaction and relationships. I think that's why I picked the game.

Scott: One of the fun facts I picked up on was how basketball is so much of a social component in some of the developing world. Like he makes a great point about in the Philippines. You have these courts in the tenement areas, in the slums, that the community revolves around what's going on in the basketball court. And he said, it's highly unusual in some of these places for somebody to walk home, pass a court and not get in the game. And it turns out one of the hip hop artists that my son's been recording was heavily involved in funding and redecorating a lot of these courts in the Philippines, in the slum areas. And they become the central community places where the community gets together. And it's become sort of like what the square, the town square was right outside the Catholic cathedral in medieval times. It's the place where the community gathered and was where the dynamism of the community took place.

Sean: There's something powerful, powerfully relational about the game of basketball brings community together and gets into a lot of the principles that we'll walk through. But before we jump into some of those, I think it's important to talk about his worldview. You hinted at this, but I think he's very clearly humanist on this level.

Scott: Spell it out in a little more detail.

Sean: I think it would be helpful. So there was a review of this book in “Christianity Today" by a sports historian, by a professional historian. And he starts off and he says, "You cannot understand the game of basketball apart from the Christian roots of Naismith and why he created it.” That's definitely left out of this book. And he says this, he says, "We can start with Hollander's treatment of Naismith's faith." This is the article in Christianity Today. He admits that Naismith was inspired by Christian commitments, but assures readers that Naismith left Christian ministry behind and adopted, quote, "a more ecumenically humanistic drive and perspective." As evidence, Hollander cites Naismith's application to the YMCA training school, quoting him that in his goal in life was to do good wherever I can do this best, that is where I want to go. But he stops there. He left out the full quote, which says “to do good to men and serve God wherever I can do this, wherever I want to go.” He left that out. So in this, this historian, he says there's no way you can understand Baswell apart from his faith. And he said, in fact, “while Hollander sees Naismith's decision to pursue a career in physical education as a way of leaving Christian ministry, in truth, Naismith wanted to expand Christian ministry outside of the walls of the church. And he saw sports as a way to do this.” So there's a few times where his worldview kind of seeps through, which is fine. My worldview seeps through in other books, but I think it does a disservice to the real roots and motivation behind basketball.

Scott: Well, it's one thing to have your worldview seep out. It’s another thing to have your worldview cause you to be selective about what you include as facts. And that I think presents a bit of a misleading picture about what motivated Naismith to invent the game in the first place. Because he was committed to ministering to a whole group of at-risk kids that had been put under his charge and basketball was the ideal game in order to foster that kind of cooperation that he wanted to see.

Sean: And I think that's helpful. You see other things seep out and I don't want to nitpick. I just kind of want to highlight for our audience he makes a point here. He says, “by the start of 2022, so many people were fed up with the absence of meaning that in the search of a new work life balance, the so-called great resignation result in 25 million people voluntarily leaving the workforce.” Mike, OK, that's half the story. The government was paying people to not work. How can you leave that out of the story? So that's a part of this discussion. We could have that, but there's a lot of things that I would pause and take issue with. But one, sorry, go ahead.

Scott: If given some of the differences in his worldview that I think are right to point out, part of that raises a really interesting question is do you see some areas of overlap that he clearly probably did not intend, but are there things, places of overlap between the things that he's suggesting, some of the virtues of the game, and what that suggests for solving major social problems and a Christian worldview. So he cites a book in here that's another one of my all-time favorite books. It's called "Black Gods of the Asphalt," and it talks about how basketball really functions like a religion. So there's certain rituals, in particular he's talking about in the inner city, the author does. And he says there's a certain dance that people do. If you watch certain people like Kyrie Irving, it's literally like he's dancing on the floor. It's beautiful what he does with the basketball. There's a certain jargon, there's certain rules, there's a certain dress. There's rituals that people practice. Even Chris Paul one time, and it's one of the most moving stories I've ever heard, his grandfather was killed. And Chris Paul is one of the greatest point guards of all time. His grandfather, or he might, he died. I forget the story of how his grandfather passed, but Chris Paul wanted to dedicate a basketball game to his grandfather who died, I think if I remember, was 61 or 63. So Chris Paul says in high school, "I'm gonna score 63 points." Doesn't tell anybody to honor his grandfather. So you see, basketball has this deeper meaning. There's actually a whole clip you can watch on YouTube, a five minute news story of this. And at the end, he gets to the line, he's just killing it. He has like 60 some points, gets fouled and only has to score one to get this point to honor his grandfather, makes it the next one he air balls, walks to the side and just collapses on the floor. Like, so to talk about the game of basketball meaning something, it does. It can function like a religion for people. But even in the, you look at the contents of the book, it's the balance of individual and collective. Well, the Bible talks about the individual and the collective church.

Scott: - Quite a lot.

Sean: Human alchemy, the importance of unity. Make it global. And even on that page of global, he talks about the importance of translating the rules of Naismith, which is like translating the Bible. He talks about Naismith's disciples. He actually even has a version of the basketball golden rule that's in the book. Talks about no barrier to access, which is true in the Christian faith, uniquely, neither Greek, nor Jew, slave, nor free, male, nor female. Urban and rural, it transcends. you see Christianity did, you had the elite and you had maybe the poor or less powerful. Antidote to isolation, sanctuary, and the last one is transcendence. So I think he's right to see a spiritual root within the game of basketball, but I think he's wrong to say it's actually going to save the world.

Scott: Yeah, I think, you know, you wonder, you know, what does this look like when you take it to the details?

Sean: There you go.

Scott: And I think that's where it sort of runs aground. I think he's on the right track, I think. And I think there's a place for recognizing some of the weight of principles that come out of the game can be so helpful in decreasing the polarization of our culture, getting people to care about the common good as opposed to their own individual self-interest. Getting people to recognize that cooperation is as high a value as competition in our economic system. Things like that I think are refreshing reminders, although basketball does have a highly competitive aspect to it as well.

Sean: - It does, yeah.

Scott: - But let's get into some of the specific principles, 'cause I think the first one he mentions I think may be the most profound of all of them, and that is the principle of cooperation, that Naismith made the rules of the game so that players would have to cooperate. He changed some of the rules, for example, to allow players to pass the ball to any player at any time, anywhere on the court, except not into the back court, which came later.

Sean: Yes, yeah.

Scott: And there's, you know, the game did not allow tackling, which was, I think, one of the few sports that did not allow for any kind of physical, excessive contact. I think that had something to do with the atmosphere of cooperation that was fostered there. So what's he really emphasizing here about this principle? And tell me what you think of that.

Scott: - So he also said, you can't run with a ball. You've got to pass it. That was meant to build in a team sport, right? And dribble the ball is a way of adapting that to a degree. Fair enough. So one of the things I've always loved about basketball is it really is the consummate team sport. Even watching the game, like if you watch a team, Sometimes in the NBA it's like isolation on the side, one on five, okay that guy can score, but there's not something beautiful about that. Teams like the San Antonio Spurs, very fundamental, super team oriented, Golden State, as talented as they are, they are setting screens, they're moving, they're a unit working together. So you think about the simplest drill in basketball, the three man weave, and you can do it with five people. You pass, go behind the person you pass, and it's three people creating this kind of weave together, it's this idea of cooperation that is built into the game. Now one of the things I read to my son, I wanted him to hear this, was a quote he puts on page seven. And I just love this line where Bill Russell, who has I think 11 championships.

Scott: - 11 titles in 13 years.

Sean: - In 13 years, six foot nine, so smaller for a center. But I mean, that's more rings than you can fit on your fingers. It's kind of amazing to think about. just phenomenal. He was asked, "How would you stop somebody like Shaquille O'Neal? Physically bigger, dominant, seven-foot-one." And he simply said, he has a brief silence, and he said, "I wouldn't stop him. My team would." There's something beautiful about that, and he recognizes that in this book.

Scott: Which is why the Boston Celtics so often beat Wilt Chamberlain's teams.

Sean: That's exactly right, to go back to somebody who was physically dominant, but their team was better. He says, "Basketball cooperation is not the means to an end, but the means and the end. It's built in to be successful." That's why he's a point guard. I got as much thrill, sometimes more, having an assist because I felt good having an assist. And then the other person scores, there's two directly involved in the play. And of course, this is a biblical idea of cooperation. You think of the body of Christ, you think of the role that we play. No man is an island. These are deeply biblical ideas. I think the only –he talks about a space for empathy, where when you play with somebody, you learn to cooperate and understand that person. The only way I would push back is I'd say this is built into basketball, but it doesn't just happen by itself. Basketball is the medium to allow this to happen. But it's not going to happen magically, so to speak, like you and I have coached teams, my son played for a super talented team. But if players don't trust each other, if players don't love each other, if you don't have a coach that teaches you how to cooperate, it's not going to magically happen. So this is a biblical idea. Basketball allows for this to take place. But if you don't have the right leadership, you don't have the character, it's not going to magically happen.

Scott: One of the hardest things we had to teach our kids when we were coaching them is to get them to share the ball. It's not about you. So they don't come to this naturally. It's a part of what has to be coached into them. And we would tell kids, scoring points is the easy part. Getting someone in a position to where they can score, that's what takes real skill. But we had, I mean, constantly, if somebody has a better shot than you, they get the ball.

Sean: - That's right.

Scott: - End of story. You cooperate with your teammates to get the best shot that we can. And nobody stops anybody defensively by themselves. Especially the more skilled the players are, the more that's true. And that's, I mean, you play defense as a team and not individually.

Sean: Absolutely.

Scott: And I remember thinking, as I read that section on cooperation, it struck me that I think where you really see that, I think most clearly is in the women's game more than the men's.

Sean: I totally agree. Because the men are-- 100%. They're so athletic. And it's not that hard for a really athletic, really skilled player to take over a game by themselves. Now, they will admit they can't win without a team. But I think that sense of cooperation and teamwork and working together is more evident in the women's game because they're not, and this is, I gotta be careful with this,

(Sean laughs)

Scott: Because they're generally not as athletic as the men are.

Sean: That's true. You don't have to be careful. That's a fact. It's not better or worse. It's just the nature of the biological difference.

Scott: - I think it actually makes the women's game actually a lot more fun to watch.

Sean: - I agree. That's why some people like coaching women's game more, but that's a separate issue.

Scott: So before we move to another specific principle, the big idea of the book, of course, is basketball can change the world.

Sean: - Yeah.

Scott: - Do you believe that's true or has he overstated this?

Sean: - So here's where if I'm gonna be really honest, I think he drops the ball and metaphor intended on this. I think he, we gotta ask the question.

Scott: - So he dribbles it off his foot at this point?

Sean: - He dribbles it off his foot. It's a major turnover that I think is gonna cost you literally the whole game. So I was talking this through with my wife, interestingly enough. Again, she played and coached basketball. And one of the issues that came up is on page 128, he cites in 2019, this international story where Daryl Morey, then general manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters in October, 2019. This enraged the Chinese government and created quite an international drama. Now what bothered a lot of people about this is that there's a lot of left-leaning players who speak out on certain issues of justice and a lot of well-known coaches, I'm not going to call by name, people probably know who they are, who speak very quickly on all sorts of left-leaning issues. When asked about this one, their tongue, the cat got their tongue. I don't know, I got to think about it more. I have no opinion about this. I'm not sure. Put it off and even castigated him for speaking up. Now, when you get to the bottom of this–

Scott: And Morey eventually apologized with his hat in his hand.

Sean: Yeah, he was forced to, right? But bottom line, it says, you know, why was this such a drama? It said, nothing got nearly the early kind of reaction that Morey got. Why? Why did this tweak get so much? He says, “because it wasn’t about the NBA. It was about basketball, the most popular sport in the most populous nation.” I would say nonsense. It's about money and it's about reach and basketball is the medium to make it about that. So as we said earlier, if there's more basketball fans in China than there are even people in the US, that's a huge money market. So you can't stand up and say justice issues matter, but only certain justice issues. If basketball was really going to change the world, it would take people with the power to say, "You know what? What's going on in the Uyghur camps in China? That is wrong. Other things related to human rights abuses in China, we love the Chinese people, we want to play basketball there, but we're going to use the voice that has been given us to speak out about this injustice with a willingness to suffer." Soj why did Christianity turn the world upside down? Because it cost people something. They were willing to suffer for it. None of the principles in this book cost really anybody that much of anything, although he tells a great story of Maya Moore, former WNBA player, one of the greatest ever. She actually endorsed one of my books. She's a Christian. And she gave up to, you know, there's a whole story. I don't want to get–

Scott: At the peak of her career

Sean: Peak of her career, got a man unjustly thrown in prison, ended up marrying. A powerful story, motivated largely by your Christian faith. That's one example in the book. But if basketball is going to change the world, it's going to take people players and it's going going to take players and it's going to take coaches to say that's an abuse we're not going to allow that even if it costs us something until they're willing to do that basketball is not going to change anything significant.

Scott: Well and it can actually be a force to reinforce some of the wrong things because all those players that speak up on all sorts of issues that when they came when the cat got their tongue on this one, I think it just showed that there's an impotence about the game in some issues. It's hard for a lot of people to swallow.

Sean: I think so too.

Scott: And even people who have been very outspoken on other issues, they clammed up really quickly on this and you could tell that it was fundamentally about what they had to lose.

Sean: I agree. I, Look–

Scott: Either they were just not willing to lose it.

Sean: You know, it was, look, Jordan, who was asked, why doesn't he speak up more on political issues? And he's like, “Republicans buy sneakers too.” Something to that effect. Either don't speak on issues or speak consistently across the board on the real civil rights issues and human rights issues. Don't pick and choose if you want to actually change the world. If you only speak on topics that are comfortable and help you, you're just not going to change anything because you're not rocking the boat.

Scott: Yeah. And that's not to say that, you know, what they speak out on is necessarily problematic.

Sean: Of course. Yeah.

Scott: What LeBron James did, for example, during the pandemic is cited in here about how he was the only– started nonprofit to get out the vote and persuaded owners of major sports franchises to open their arenas to become voting places.

Sean: That's awesome.

Scott: It was terrific.

Sean: Yeah that's a great thing.

Scott: But LeBron was also one who’s cat got his tongue when it came to Hong Kong and China. Human rights abuse is there. Let's look to another principle that I didn't know quite what to make of this when I first saw it in the contents. I thought what is he going to say about basketball being gender inclusive.

Sean: Yeah.

Scott: And then I read the story of how Naismith you know from the start included women. In fact women came in to the gym and saw the guys playing and wanted to play themselves and it was the, and basketball was the first organized team sport that was ever that was ever made available for women to play exclusively for women. And I think it's true that it, I mean, overall, it took the game a long time for women to be included and to be treated, for the game to be valued the same as the men's game. And I think we've largely gotten there today. Though, of course, the men's game is still much more popular than the women's game, but it's catching up quickly, especially on the international scene. So what do you make of his principle of the game sort of being this intrinsically gender inclusive thing?

Sean: - Yeah, so I love it. My wife earned a scholarship at Vanguard. She worked her tail off coming from Julian, California, up in the mountains to get a scholarship. There's not a lot of basketball out there. It's pretty impressive. So I read this story to her. He includes a story of Dawn, Dawn Staley. Oh, it's incredible. Just really, just briefly, she grew up playing near the courts in the projects in North Philadelphia. Boys would tell her to go home, jump rope, bake cookies. She just refuses to give up. So even so much that she would bring her own basketball to different things and would only let people use her basketball if they would let her play. You can just picture this relentless, hard-working, never backing down girl who loves the game. And it turns out she makes it. She gets a full ride to University of Virginia. Just remarkable player. Graduated in '92. There was no U.S. Pro Women's League, so she plays overseas. Comes back and basically has this remarkable career where she played pro ball in in the ABL 96 to 98, transferred to the new WNBA in 1998, but she also accepted a head coaching job at Temple University Women's Basketball. So think about this, for six years, she coached at Temple Division I program and played in the WNBA. And then it says, for two of those seasons, 2000, 2004, Dawn Staley played WNBA and coached Temple and won the gold with the Olympic team. He says, “who does that? Women do.” Like, I read that to my wife. That's so amazing because I know sometimes my wife feels like she has more hurdles to get through in life than men do. But I couldn't help but get to the end of the chapter. And here's how he ends the chapter. So up until this point, I agree it's gender inclusive. It's good for women. The like, all these things are awesome. Then he says, “when it is said the future is female, what is men is that the future is gender inclusive. The starting point,” I skipped some lines. “The starting point is for everyone across the gender spectrum of gender identity. Inclusion means inclusion. Limited gender binary thinking excludes a lot of people. Whatever solution plan, policy or law you have for whatever problem or need, if it's not gender inclusive across the spectrum, then it will fail the world going forward.” So there's a reason why he ended the chapter there rather than walking through what this looks like, because you know, the moment you start to walk through what this looks like, it’s problematic. Now there's a difference between saying somebody who is transgender can come play basketball. Of course they can, but you can't say women do these amazing things as if women, there's an objective thing that we call women and then shift towards this gender inclusive kind of mantra which questions that. You can't have it both ways. The game of basketball would be ruined for women if biological men started playing it consistently. And this gets very personal. My wife eked out like the last scholarship she could have possibly gotten, even partial when she got there to Vanguard and she was working at the cafeteria. She was majoring in math. Finally, her coach is like, I've got the rest of the scholarship for you. So to think that somebody who's not even a female could get that scholarship, that's not fair. not right. And I'm not saying all transgender people are trying to do that. That's not my point. But you start to go down that road and you change. You actually, I would argue, you wreck the game and you make it unfair rather than you actually help it in the way he's trying to say.

Scott: Yeah, I think not only for basketball, but for I think the majority of women's sports would be the same way.

Sean: Agreed.

Scott: Now another principle that he describes that I found really helpful is is the no barrier to access. What does he mean by that? And does basketball really work to bring unity and sort of positive things about relationships?

Sean: So here's what he says, "The idea of no barrier to access, that everyone gets to play, that it's easy at the end of the game, is a basic principle of the human condition." I do love that. It's a sense where anybody can show up, Try to check into a game and compete. It shouldn't matter on the playground, your sex shouldn't matter. Your age and principle shouldn't matter. Your skin color, etc.

Scott: All I gotta say is, I got next.

Sean: I got next. You go in there. So he talks about that and I think it's great. But there's also sense where you can only take that so far. I mean, if you let anybody play, it also ruins the game. It just does. I mean, how many times I was just at the Y last week with my son, he's just giving me the look, he's got this kid, his team, taking terrible shots, not playing D. He gives me the look the whole time. He's like, I hate basketball at the Y. And I guess you know what you're going to get when you show up, because anybody can play. Right? I played in courts around the world. I played against the alternate Olympic team in Russia, played against professional teams in South Africa. I played in Newport Beach at great courts down there. I played all over the world, Latin America. Venice is a fun place. Gone over to Venice Beach and played. And yet, in principle, anybody can play. But if you don't have game and you can't compete on the level of it, you shouldn't step out and play. It actually ruins it for everybody else. If like if people are playing music and I'm like, hey, no barrier access to anybody, I can go play the guitar. I would ruin it for the band. So there's something true about that. Anybody can go shoot a hoop. Anybody can create a game. But when it comes to playground basketball, there's reasons why there's actually certain access to the game that should be limited to preserve it. That's why I think about basketball. And then he gives an example here. He says, “for example, make banking accessible. Allow anyone to walk in off the street and set up an account for free, no matter how much money they have.” Mike, OK. Like, so he's That's such a stretch from the game of basketball. And in the same way, if you let anybody just walk in and have an account, they haven't showed some level of responsibility, they're gonna wreck the economy, that bank is gonna go bankrupt. So--

Scott: - We've seen that movie before.

Sean: - I like the principle that he's talking about. I think it's just doesn't fully connect in this way.

Scott: - Yeah, it's a bit idealistic, I think.

Sean: - Yeah, that's a good way to put it.

Scott: - What I've discovered is that when you get people who are on the court who don't know really what they're doing out there, that's how some of the guys who do know what they're doing, that's how they get hurt.

Sean: That's right.

Scott: And I've taken more than a few spills and had a few sprained ankles and I think once a concussion, playing with people who didn't really know what they're doing.

Sean: Wow. A concussion, holy cow.

Scott: Yeah, one of these times I was running down the court, you know, on offense trying to get to the basket and one of the players just sort of carelessly threw a pass that clipped me and clipped my heel and I went sprawling face first onto the court. Ended up with a freak accident, breaking and dislocating my big toe. Scraped all in the face, had a concussion, lost, temporarily lost feeling in my hand. And I told my friend who came over to see I was okay, I said, "I can't move my arms."

Sean: Holy cow.

Scott: "I can't move my arms." And he said, "Well, while you said that, you were actually moving your arms."

Sean: That's a good sign.

Scott: But I couldn't feel any of that.

Sean: Holy cow.

Scott: But then the person who threw the pass that tripped me up never came to say, "Hey, are you okay? I'm sorry."

Sean: Yeah.

Scott: “Just got out of control.” He was just, he just didn't know what he was doing and didn't belong out there.

Sean: Yep. And uh, I'm glad you're all right.

Scott: That's,

Sean: That's, that's pretty dramatic.

Scott: Some people wonder if the head injury had lingering effects.

Sean: Yeah, you did cue me up for that one.

Scott: And I appreciate you not biting on it. So.

Sean: But people get undercut and ironically, you can't have cooperation in the game of basketball. The first principle, if you have any access, it actually ruins cooperation. So, you know, these are principles. You can take some from it, but some of the applications, I think you're right.

Scott: So any principles that you think he should have included that he missed?

Sean: That's an interesting question. I thought he missed the principle of freedom. What does freedom mean in the game of basketball? So I give example. We're playing. It's almost funny. It was in Montana this summer at a camp. And I saw these two high school kids out playing. One wants to play college ball. One's actually going to play college football. And of course, I'm looking at him and my instant thought is I could take these guys. I don't know why. I just can't. That's my thought. And so I got this other older guy in my 40s. He's in his 30s. I said, let's play these young bucks. And these guys are strong. They're quicker. They're way better athletes. But there's something of like he knew when to pass it. He knew when to screen. He knew how to seal with his body. There was a certain fun and freedom of the game because we knew how to play the game, and because there's rules. You have to have a knowledge of the game and there's also a sense of the rules. So do you know who the character that Naismith valued the most was the referee. He said “the referee is the most valuable because the referee is going to teach character.” Now we hate on the referee today, but he thought it was the most valuable. Not running with the ball, traveling, out of bounds, no goaltending. It's actually rules that set us free to play the game. They don't constrict us, they set us free. And then when we know those rules and we know how to play the game, then there's a beautiful freedom that comes out of it. You apply that to society, we have to know what truth is. We have to know the truth about our human nature and relationships and what human life is for. And when we know that and those rules and those truths, so to speak, we're actually more set free. So our culture says, do whatever you want without restraint is freedom. Basketball says, no, don't do whatever you want. Someone's gonna get hurt, your example, the game's not gonna be fun. There's actually rules embedded within it and the right restraint brings freedom. So I think about somebody like Steph Curry, he's probably the most free basketball player in the planet because he's practiced and he's practiced and he's restrained himself to shoot from 35 feet. It's actually that restraint within the rules of basketball that brings real freedom. And it's the same for art. It's the same for music. I think that's a principle I would have loved to see him develop.

Scott: - I think there's something to that. I think that trains are designed to run on their tracks, not to run anywhere they please. and to keep society from becoming a train wreck. You have to have boundaries. You have to have tracks that people are running on. And I think the rules and the boundaries that are set up give you the ability to function within those constraints. But freedom and constraints are not inherently self-contradictory.

Sean: - I agree.

Scott: - In fact, they are inherently complimentary. And the person who is the most free is the one who's learned to live within the necessary restraints that you have to have in order to function well. And so that's, I think the idea of the autonomous self today having the freedom to do what you want, do what, you know, follow your feelings, follow your heart, not all, and that's not always great advice because, you know, if we followed our nature, we would do a lot of things that would set us up to be in really serious trouble. So one other principle that I didn't know quite what to do with this at the end of the book, because his final principle is transcendence. And it was, there's something about the game that he points out, points to something beyond it. And I guess if that's your definition of transcendent, I think I'm okay with that.

Sean: Sure.

Scott: But from a Christian worldview, transcendence to us points to something much bigger and much more broad than that. So how did you assess his understanding of the idea of transcendence?

Sean: So I love this. I love that he sees there's something greater about the game of basketball that points us beyond ourselves. I started thinking back of when I first, it's going to sound funny, but when I first started to fall in love with the game of basketball. I remember watching a dunk contest and I watched these people that could just float and lift and I thought how do you jump like that? And seeing Jordan jump from the free throw line, right? There was something about Air Jordan like he can transcend and you've seen in basketball, people pushing the limits of what a human being can do. Can somebody really shoot that far? Can somebody jump that high? Can somebody move that quickly? And I always felt drawn out of myself to this feeling of transcendence. I think that's what he's getting at. I would view this more in the way that Os Guinness talks about in his book, “Signals of Transcendence.”

Scott: That’s a good way to put it.

Sean: He talks about how like daffodils, why are there flowers? Is there something about a flower that can just stop and point beyond itself to something beautiful? He'll talk about things like a baby crying and mother's just saying it's going to be okay. Does that tell us something about the universe that things are going to be okay? And look at basketball, if I really think about it, all the principles he writes out in this book, and also just how it pushes the human spirit to its limits. And I think you can see this in other things. I was having dinner with a former professional surfer last night. He's talking about riding these big waves. I could only imagine this feeling of transcendence with nature, this danger, like you just feel bigger than yourself, say in surfing. Basketball has that. And I think that's what he's talking about. But it's amazing of all the principles he ends there, because it makes me say, "Yeah, is there something greater we should point to? Does this signal something about what humans are yearning for?" And I think again, if C.S. Lewis is like, “if there's something we yearn for in this life, if you're hungry, there's food. You know, if you're tired, there's sleep.” If basketball is pointing beyond ourselves to something transcendent, maybe there actually is something transcendent. So I loved that last principle. It was the shortest chapters, like a page and a half. I left going, "Ah, I want more of what he thinks," but it's a great place to end because I think it hints towards basketball not solving the world. We actually need something transcendent beyond the sport, namely God himself to step in the human race, you know, etc.

Scott: Well, and just as I think you rightly said, this is a good place for the book to end, I think that's a good place for our conversation to end on this too.

(Sean Laughing)

Scott: This has been so fun to talk about, something that we both love, and I trust that our viewers are at least humoring us.

Sean: At least. (laughing)

Scott: With at least that, if not having fully shared in the enjoyment that we take of being sort of first-rate basketball junkies. So thanks. I'm so delighted that we get a chance to show this to our listeners, commend this to us, “How Basketball Can Save the World.” We don't really think it can save the world, but it's got a lot of good things to say about principles that the game makes clear for human relationships and building communities. So thank you so much for joining us for this. We hope you join us again next time. This is Think Biblically from Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.