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The "I" in team: How young black men gain *respect through basketball

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  • Black Studies|Sociology
  • Ethnic And Racial Studies|Recreation


This ethnography describes how young black men I have come to know as a coach use the sport of basketball to gain the respect of others in their social world. They want to be known by others as a basketball player, but this takes work, a collective effort. As they learn to play the game, principles of status are established, criteria by which players are evaluated and are able to gain respect. Around the playground, they begin to learn the basic rules of the game and try to develop certain abilities. Young boys watch older players, learning the rules of the game. They note how older players move from one point to another, how the ball is moved, how critical rules are invoked in the process. They take special note of who does what to whom in what circumstances and how others, playing and watching, respond. The activity on the playground takes on various forms, from play and sociability to performance. The social order of basketball changes with space and leagues played away from the playground are typically of different character than playground ball. In recreational and competitive leagues, young players learn the rituals and conventions of “real” basketball. Basketball play becomes games, the collective action of individuals working towards a single goal, and the social organization and norms are prearranged by coaches in line with conventions of organized basketball learned through team practice. In the community, basketball is not simply a pastime, nor a means to escape poverty, but an important social institution. It is a regular, collective activity with established norms, rules, and statuses that are passed on from generation to generation. People play with different goals and aspirations but all commonly seek respect; some simply hope to be chosen for a game of pick-up ball, while others dream seriously of becoming a professional player and winning fame and fortune. Regardless, players feel the special need to impress one another here and move through a discernible social hierarchy that has become an important status passage to adulthood. ^

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