From high school basketball to the NBA, basketball is an American pastime with a rich, complex history. It doesn't matter where you hail from – inevitably, you've had a run in with at least some form of basketball. The first organized basketball game occurred in Trenton, New Jersey in 1892, and had a portable basketball goal. This game was played inside the Trenton Masonic Temple, and there were no basketball backboards – in fact, the "net" was a wooden basket that had to be emptied each time a player made a basket! This caused basketball to explode across the entire eastern front of the United States. However, basketball's history transcends much more than just half court shots; it transcends societal norms, cultural equality, and an increasingly rich American history.
It was the year 1916, before the civil rights movement had begun, that the first all-African American basketball conference was formed by nine coaches and faculty members from diverse institutions. Among the institutions were Lincoln, Shaw, Virginia Union, Howard Universities, and last but not least, the Hampton Institute. This conference was called the Central Interscholastic Athletic Association, abbreviated CIAA, and sponsored both unorganized and organized games for young African Americans. However, basketball soon became more than just a game in African American culture; the basketball backboard became an emblem of societal justice, cultural equality, and civil rights. African Americans owned basketball, both on and off the professional court, and used this power to propel their societal oppression upward and outward. The inner city struggles of the African American youth were represented in the game of basketball, and to some extent, still are today
With the history and symbolism of basketball backboards in mind, the question can be asked: How does that symbolism work in today's society? Is basketball still an emblem of African American culture? Let's examine basketball. Who is one of the most branded players in basketball? Michael Jordan. You can't go out in public without seeing his slam dunk emblem embellished across Nike gear and shoes. In basketball history, Michael Jordan was/still is the "it" man – and continues to be an incredible icon for the sport around the globe. This Michael Jordan emblem – arms spread wide, jumping high – perfectly fuses the role of basketball in African American societal achievement for equality. It's a sport, but it's also so much more than that – it's a means for African Americans to achieve equality, as symbolized by the "stretching upwards" of Michael Jordan's hands within the emblem. This fusion is the epitome of the role of basketball in African American culture.
Perhaps on a similar level of equality, women's basketball teams formed around the same time as the initial game went professional with the NBA. In 1892 at Smith's College, women's basketball was born. A physical education teacher modified the rules and formed the first all-woman intercollegiate team in 1893. The early beginnings of portable basketball goals didn't just apply to men's leagues; women were participating in the game of basketball just as frequently as men were. In fact, by 1895, women's basketball had become so popular that it quickly spread across America, and intercollegiate games began sprouting up like dandelions. Initially, the rules for women's basketball were implemented for the purpose of making the game less physical than men's; however, by 1938, for the first time in history, an all women team played an all men's team using the men's rules. Eventually, the rules became the same between both sexes, becoming a huge step toward equality in woman's rights. In the 1970's, women were finally allowed to play on a full size court. Therefore, the basketball backboard wasn't just a symbol of equality for African Americans – it was a symbol for the beginnings of feminism, as well.
Today, there's an overwhelming amount of basketball leagues and levels, ensuring that anyone who wants to play can play. Basketball has reached such a high level of popularity that it brings together even the most diverse of people to cheer on their local team. It's important to realize the effect of the basketball backboards as emblems among societal groups that work to achieve cultural justice – for all races and both sexes. Basketball truly is an American sport with a rich cultural history that continues to be popular today, whether it's played on-court or in the middle of the street with a portable basketball goal. Within the last two centuries, basketball has unified the American people, transgressing race, gender, and age.
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