KERRY HUBARTT COLUMN: Basketball: The game that can “save the world”

Kerry Hubartt

Today’s topic is basketball, my favorite sport.

I fell in love with the game as a 7th grader — when I transferred from Northwood Junior High to Leo Jr.-Sr. High School midway through the 7th grade, kids asked me to join the team on my first day. It was because I was one of the tallest kids in my class. But I was horrible. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing.

Fortunately, the coach of the 7th and 8th grade teams at Leo, Whitey Heller, was a strict disciplinarian, innovative coaching mind and great teacher of fundamentals who had been the former Leo varsity coach some years before. So I learned, little by little, through the season, and spent the spring and summer shooting baskets in my driveway day after day. In 8th grade I was the starting center on the team, which won the Allen County tournament championship.

So I was hooked. I played for Leo through high school and kept playing in church leagues, at the old YMCA downtown on my lunch hours and at 6 a.m. open gyms before work a couple of days a week until I was 50 years old. It was only the combination of a bad knee on one leg, and a bad ankle on the other that made me stop. I had sprained both ankles repeatedly through my playing days, tore cartilage in my knee, broke my nose, broke my collar bone and dislocated a finger.

My wife jokes that basketball ruined my life. My body, maybe, but my life, no. Basketball was a great experience, and I continued to follow the game through my children and my job as a sportswriter at The News-Sentinel for many years when I could report on high school and college games, including the beginning of the Bob Knight era at Indiana University. I’m still hooked.

I say all this because of an Associated Press article I read last week about a New York University professor who will be teaching a class on basketball in 2019, “How Basketball Can Save The World: An Exploration of Society, Politics, Culture and Commerce Through the Game,” a four-credit course that will debut in the coming summer session.

Boy, if they’d had that at IU when I was in college, I’d have signed up in a minute.

And while I believe basketball is a great sport, builds character, teaches teamwork and can enrich lives, I don’t know that I ever thought about it being a means of saving the world. Perhaps “help” is a better word than “save.”

The professor for the course will be David Hollander, who, according to AP basketball writer Brian Mahoney, “has seen the game grab people from his hometown gymnasium in New Jersey all the way to pickup courts in China, and in so many other places in between.”

Mahoney quotes Hollander: “Basketball seems like one of the few things that everybody in the world is OK with. Even the most closed societies, like North Korea, who wouldn’t allow anybody in, was OK with allowing a group of basketball players and Dennis Rodman.”

Mahoney writes that Hollander had been putting together his ideas for a basketball-themed course for years while teaching in NYU’s sports business program. But he was inspired to make it happen after seeing the ESPN documentary, “Basketball: A Love Story.”

“The course plans to chart basketball’s growth in popularity,” writes Mahoney, “from its appeal to Irish and Jewish immigrants in urban U.S. areas, to the way success in the sport has provided a national pride for countries in the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia, such as Lithuania and Serbia. It also examines the game’s role in politics, from U.S. relations with basketball-crazed China to Rodman’s friendship with Kim Jong Un and visits to North Korea.”

I like all aspects of the game of basketball, and I think it’s great that it may even be a way to unite nations.

But for me, the real magic of the game was on the court, actually playing it.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.