Basketball Is a Beautiful Game, but Not a Blueprint for Society

Treating the sport as a comprehensive social and political model misunderstands the vision of its Christian founder.

There is no sport whose origins are as deeply entwined with Christianity as basketball. Created in 1891 by James Naismith while he was studying at the YMCA’s International Training School, the game is a product of the “muscular Christianity” movement that sought to connect church and sports at the turn of the 20th century.

As a sports historian, I know there’s supposed to be no cheering in the archives. Yet, as a Christian and a lifelong basketball fan, I’ll admit to at least a small sense of pride when I talk about the origins of the game. My favorite sport, I like to point out, doesn’t exist without Christian ideas and institutions.

Given this background, I was immediately intrigued when I heard about David Hollander’s new book, How Basketball Can Save the World: Thirteen Guiding Principles for Reimagining What’s Possible. A professor with the Tisch Institute for Global Sport at New York University, Hollander’s premise is simple: The principles embedded within basketball by James Naismith can help us solve the problems of our world today.

A new ‘ism’

Hollander is not writing from a Christian perspective, but he does believe basketball has a deeper meaning that can shape the way we live. Amid profound disruption and fragmentation, with the failure of various “isms”—Hollander names capitalism, socialism, theism, and nationalism, among others—he suggests that basketball can offer a new “ism,” a system for making sense of the world.

“No more of the same old mistakes, from the same old thinking, by the same old leaders,” he writes. “Those systems have demonstrably failed. Basketball has given us a nearly century-and-a-half …

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