Key Takeaways:

  • Overlap of Basketball & Philosophy
  • Communitarianism
  • Decline of Small-Town Hoops

Coaches like to believe that we are philosophers. To be fair, in some capacity we have to be, right? At least within our own programs, we aim to develop a philosophy for different areas over time: academic integrity, culture/locker-room, style of play, and community involvement. Basketball and Philosophy may not provide guidance on the “foul or no foul” situation when up three with less than five seconds in the game. But, it can challenge our approach when thinking about our daily interactions with our best players. Or things to consider when playing a team for the third time in a season. The organization of the book is split up into four quarters:

  • First Quarter: Baseline Values & Enduring Lessons
  • Second Quarter: Prime-Time Players, Coaches, and Sages
  • Third Quarter: Shooting from the Perimeter
  • Fourth Quarter: Metaphysical Madness

Although basketball is sometimes regarded as less cerebral than sports such as baseball and golf, this philosophical pedigree perhaps gives hoops the rightful claim to being “the thinking person’s game.


There is a lot of overlap between philosophy and basketball, particularly from a coaching perspective. As a player that had to gain an advantage from a cerebral standpoint, I think I gained an appreciation for trying to understand different vantage points early. It may have been things like the decision to zone in a youth league, or the influence trash-talking may actually have on a player during a game. My personal interest in philosophy started in college after selecting an elective that I hoped to be an easy ‘A’ for the semester. Not sure how the grade turned out, but it quickly became an enjoyable class listening to the different perspectives within any conversation. Now, this is clearly considered antiquated in forum; as we all know, philosophical debates are only allowed to be held on social media. This book still serves value for critical thinking as a learner and a leader. Some of the questions that are raised throughout the book:

  • How do you measure true greatness in a basketball player or coach?
  • What can basketball teach us about character and success?
  • With constantly changing rosters, what does it mean for a player to play for the “same team”?
  • Is intentional fouling unethical, and if so, when?
  • Can studying Eastern mystical traditions such as Zen Buddhism and Taoism improve your jump shot?

I am open to any mystical traditions that have the ability to improve someone’s jump shot. From a coaching standpoint, during the season I feel at my best with my team when I am actively engaged in thought-provoking literature and consistently studying the game. It forces me to answer questions related to culture, concept, and scheme within our program. While I’m not sure that I will come out of this teaching lessons of Taoism to our group of guys; I rule nothing out as it pertains to becoming a better coach. The first chapter discusses the impact of a community on the individual.

Building Communities One Gym at a Time

Which would you rather be, a high school basketball star or a professional basketball star?


There are two schools of thought in the opening chapter: communitarians or liberals.

Not in the political connotation, liberal philosophy focuses on the individual and the universal rights that apply to anyone regardless of where they live. As opposed to the communitarians that hold strong to the value in life through attachments to groups, organizations, or teams.

The abstract idea of human rights will accomplish nothing if societies don’t have the wisdom and the will to enforce those rights.


Fundamental Question: “What is the glue that holds society together?”

Liberal philosophy suggests that true diversity exists with each individual representing their own truths. Communitarians embrace the belief that strong communities are necessary for true individualism.

Basketball Question: Hometown Hero or Individual Fame?

Bringing basketball into the mix, consider the pride in the community as a high-school athlete being able to represent the values of the school and town. Whereas an NBA player, often not from the city where the franchise is located can struggle to become acclimated to the culture. Fans support the talent, but not always the person. This is why you might see a highly-touted draft pick or free-agent find more success after a change of scenery.

Communitarians argue that what makes one society good might differ from what makes another society good – just as two equally good basketball teams may have totally contrasting styles.


At the high-school level, it has traditionally been about the pride of playing for the local school. After hearing stories of generations before and attending the games of older siblings, father time sets the stage for an opportunity to put a mark on the banners already in the gym. Today, there seems to be an erosion of small-town hoops. The authors use Indiana as the prime example, often being associated with having some of the best high-school basketball environments in the country. One of the last few states employing the single-class state tournament where the small-town “Cinderella Stories” could actually exist championing big city competition.

*Shoutout to my hometown state of Kentucky standing strong still using the ‘Winner Takes All’ State Tournament*

With the combination of implementing competitive classes with merging schools, there is a dissolving trend of tradition and community. Take this to the next step with the rising popularity of AAU and the NBA lifestyle of individualism influencing the society is starting to take shape rapidly. So, is it about the individual chasing the best opportunity to compete or valuing the chance to represent the community with a common bond?

Coaches are responsible for creating a sense of community based on the personnel in the locker room. Understanding there are distinctive personalities of each individual, the challenge is empowering everyone to be the best version of themselves for the betterment of the entire group. Basketball teams are a collective entity representing something bigger – school, club, or community. The values that are adopted often are a blend of individualism and community influence. The best teams often are bought-in to a collective mission to compete at the highest level, which can take independent sacrifice.

Communitarians argue that what is most important should be what lies closest at hand.


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