I am a pretty honest person. So, when I say I was not exactly sure what to expect upon attending the first class about basketball, I really had no clue. Was it going to be all athletes? Were we just going to be discussing what was going on in the NBA? Were there going to be class slides teaching us how to pass, shoot, or run a pick and roll? I was quite curious what kind of class I had signed up for, and was at a loss for what to expect in a class about a sport. Expectations are a pretty funny thing, and can have a much larger impact on the outcome of something than most think. Every time I have ever gone to see a movie that had critics raving about it, I was always disappointed. And, in contrast, some of the best movies I have seen in theaters were ones that I was told by ten different people to not waste my time with.
With regards to RCHUMS 334, I struggle to pinpoint exactly what I was expecting out of the class in terms of structure, atmosphere, attitudes of those involved, and what I would learn, if anything. So far there have been five classes along with several articles/chapters to read in preparation for those classes, and every aspect of the course has far exceeded expectations (or lack there of). I can safely say that I have had more fun, and have learned more (about a sport that was really never my favorite) in this class than each of my other classes combined so far in the term. It has been thought-provoking, easy to discuss issues, and is not even close to as uptight as almost every other class offered on campus. This is one of the first classes in my five semesters here at Michigan that I have been able to have such open and engaging conversations in, without feeling like everyone in the room was being judged after everything he/she said. The class is entitled “the Cultures of Basketball,” but the real culture is the one that has been created between the 30 or so people sitting in 245 Dennison on Mondays and Wednesday from 1-230pm. I am not sure what the exact cause of it is. Is it that each person in the room really wants to be there? Is it that it is mostly athletes discussing a sport? Or is it the laid back approach that the professor takes in running the class? Whatever the case may be, I have never heard so many people refer back to a reading before in a discussion, which is a good sign given the fact that there are no exams in the course.
The course material has tactfully linked together very smoothly so far. The “birth” of basketball was kind of anti-climactic, which makes it all the more interesting. The fact that a game that plays such a significant role in present society was thought up by one man sitting at his desk over night just trying to save his own ass is somewhat comical. After delving into the thought process of Naismith, the way the game was created made way too much sense for comfort. He made it seem like all he did was plug different numbers into an existing equation, a process that just so happened to spit out a master piece. I really liked how the 13 rules he posted were compared in the book to Martin Luther’s 95 theses. Although a bit corny, Freedarko did a great job of making it seem like the creation of a religion, or something containing a higher meaning or substance. Oddly enough, the game has almost turned into such a practice, and has a following even more vast than some religious ways of life out there. It is also fascinating to learn about how the game was and how it has evolved over time while simultaneously thinking about how the game is played today. It all makes a lot more sense, and there is really a lot more to the history of the sport than I expected.
I have always been skeptical of how English teachers find symbolism or some deep meaning in every word/line of a piece of literature. How do you know that’s what the author meant when he/she was writing? Who are you to interpret what message the author was trying to get across? I now understand though that part of it is just the fun of intense and thorough analysis. Whether the teacher is right or wrong, the important thing is to make you think, and to expand your thought process and how you view certain components of what you are reading. This class, in a much more enjoyable way than dissecting “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” in tenth grade, does the same thing with the game of basketball. Each additional event in history, or new rule added to the game, does in fact go beyond the surface. Unfortunately, there is a lot of racism that has been involved, which makes more sense now knowing that the game was created for classy, religious, pure, white males to play. Whether discussing the scene in the film “Hoosiers,” or conversing about purist vs. modernist styles of basketball, race always plays a role, which makes it that much more difficult and interesting to openly discuss. It would be foolish to overlook such blatant racism in the film, especially after knowing the real back story of the opposing team being represented. Although controversy can always arise when there is a class made up of black and white students speaking about issues of race, an optimist views that potential controversy as a way to bring out various view points, which adds depth and variety to some incredible discussions. Once again, I now realize that all of the literary terms, devices, and thought processes are not bullshit, but in fact are a way to analyze a piece of work in a more intuitive and insightful way (in our case the “work” being basketball) which is much more meaningful. It’s quite cool how it translates right over (maybe that’s the obvious product when a professor of english/literature teaches a class on Basketball).
Lastly, the class has also changed the way I view the game. I love the points made in a reading about how it’s not just a two dimensional game, but it separates itself from other games by having volume, or a vertical aspect. Style and deception are two components that I never really gave much thought to, but that make a lot of sense when thinking about the structure of the game.
Enough rambling from me for now. I hope the class continues on in similar fashion, as it really has been fun and has taught me a lot. Unfortunately though, now the expectations are quite high, so let’s hope it’s not like the movie “Ted” and is actually good/enjoyable after getting good reviews.