Having grown up with basketball since the 1950s, I grew to appreciate its subtleties and the impact of rules changes. The shot clock (1954) was introduced to speed up the game and increase scoring, and the lane was widened (1956) to reduce the dominance of the big man. The NBA introduced the three point shot in 1979 to open up the game. But never and nowhere did anyone repeal sportsmanship.
I watch a lot of local basketball, and I'm disappointed by the death of sportsmanship. On any given night, we watch:
- Taunting of players, clapping in their faces or taking the ball from them after turnovers or foul calls
- Trash-talking, widespread through the Middlesex League
- Constant bickering with referees over calls, often with demonstrative gestures (preferably with the official's back turned)
- Baiting referees, not handing the ball to the nearby official, but throwing the ball to a distant official
- A litany of cheap shots, from the wandering elbow, the forearm shiver to the back or worse
These aren't isolated incidents, rather a staple of every game for some players.
The writings of great coaches like John Wooden, Dean Smith, Pete Newell, Pete Carril and Don Meyer always include references not only to players' skill but to their character. They understood that players represent them and their university...and they sought talented players with great character.
Sportsmanship doesn't restrict creative players' self-expression. Sportsmanship doesn't mean non-competitive or 'soft'. Sportsmanship doesn't make you less of a man. Sportsmanship doesn't make you an inferior player, but a greater person. We want to see players represent our community with pride, class, and dignity. As a community, we should demand it.