Tuesday, July 1, 2014


The beach is great. Sand feels awesome on your feet. Rocks and cliffs are very cool. The ocean has created in every person who ever saw it simultaneous feelings of expansive wonder and oppressive dread at its enormity and your own insignificance. Saltwater opens up your head, gets the sinuses all clear and open. Running in the sand has a lower impact on your joints while stiffening resistance against your muscles. The only problem with the beach is that it completely lacks arable land or any space to build reliable permanent structures; and that’s not even really a problem, because it makes the beach into a permanent work-free zone. It’s awesome!

Humankind’s natural love of the beach had led sporting federations around the world to create beach variations of beloved games. Beach volleyball, you likely know about: two players, limited touches. Soft sand cushions the impact. People don’t wear a lot of clothes and make you feel bad about your horrible and smelly body.

Beach Soccer you MAY know about. It’s played by fewer players on a smaller pitch, because running on sand is absolutely exhausting and there aren’t a lot of beaches that are consistently big enough to contain anything the size of a soccer field. The players score a lot more, because the sandy surface allows them to utilize the bare human foot’s rarely-utilized-in-sports digging capability and gift for cradling a ball to create an effective kicking angles on the ball.

Beach soccer is a higher scoring affair. The pitch is so small that there isn’t really a midfield game to speak of, and the ability to control the surface that the ball sits on makes lofting strikable passes a lot easier. It’s a version of the game enjoyed by the most desperate and needy of soccer junkies and by people completely lacking any significant attention span, like myself.

Then there’s footvolley, which is a combination of Beach Soccer and Beach volleyball. It is for showoffs.
C’mon fellas, no sport should be that hard to play.

As we speak, the state of Beach Basketball is dire. The World Beach Basketball Association’s website is hilariously outdated. They don’t have a Twitter account. Their version of the game utilizes a single central hoop with no backboard in a circular court, and players are allowed to take two and a half steps to move the ball. This takes the game much too far away from the basketball we know to be an interesting riff on an old favorite. It's more like "Dropball" than true basketball.

There is one Spanish language video on the internet of a group of gentlemen playing recognizable basketball on the beach. This grainy video is the clear way forward for a beach variation on the game.
In the creation and promotion of a beach basketball variant, the game would take an odd step backwards and more resemble the one that James Naismith created in the first place. Dribbling was not a Nasmith invention: it came about as the game evolved as a way of dispossessing oneself of the ball to move towards the hoop. Of course, you couldn’t dribble on a beach; the ball would just sit there in the sand if you tried to bounce it. Players would have to be in constant off-ball motion to get open looks at the rim.

I would like to make it perfectly clear that I am not some Senda Berenson anti-dribbling zealot. I don’t think dribbling has taken over basketball to the sport’s detriment. But much as clay court emphasizes a power game or beach soccer creates a blitzkrieg of shots on goal, a FIBA institutionalized beach variation would make for an interesting riff on modern basketball. Not better, just interesting.
In my vision, the ideal beach basketball player would probably be Marc Gasol. His passing exploits are likely well known by any reader of this blog. If you set a bunch a cutters going around that guy, you’re going to get some open shots. Not to mention his own shot, an all-upper body set shot set forth with feather touch. He’s not going to need to set his legs on uneven beach terrain, he can just flip one on up there when he’s open. He is also a very big and hairy human being, so you gotta imagine the stink he gets going out there on the beach. Other famous players with hidden beach basketball potential: Kareem (the all time king of the assisted hook shot), Kevin Love and Wes Unseld (outlets, outlets, outlets), Matt Bonner and Andre Miller (set shots, though the sand would neutralize Andre’s post game), JJ Reddick and Ray Allen (running off screens), Kirilenko and Josh Smith (cutting to the basket for alley oops) and Wilt Chamberlain. (Wilt just loves the beach, it would be cruel to not include him.)

We’re going to need some rule changes. FIBA could make crowding a person holding the ball above the painted area illegal to encourage ball movement. The three second rule would have to be strictly enforced to encourage cutting to the basket: maybe even drop the pretense of “unless you’re guarding someone” completely since penetration to the basket is going to be impossible.
Institutionalized beach basketball has a long way to go, and a natural corporate predator: shoe companies. A version of basketball where players are liberated from the tyranny of shoes is terrifying to every sneaker executive in the world. The corporate interest that prop up basketball on every level - from AAU, to College, to the NBA - are united in the purpose of hawking shoes. Beach basketball presents a threat to these interests. If this is ever going to take off the way that I know in my heart that it can, it’s going to have to start at the sandroots level. Go out there with a hoop and a basketball and something to mark lines and play a game. Share the joys of beach basketball with your friends. Spread the word. May this be the seed that creates a revolution.

(Thanks to Caitlin Obom for editing this post. She is a member of the sketch comedy group Drop the Root Beer and Run. They perform in and around Seattle.)

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