Key Takeaways:

  • Six Key Principles to Success
  • A Beautiful Game

How many definitions do we really need of success?

We will gloss over the ingredients of success mentioned from this week’s readings where contributing authors Gregory Bassham and Mark Hamilton reference values attributed to character and success on/off the court from four highly-regarded coaches from the collegiate ranks: Dean Smith, Pat Summitt, Mike Krzyzewski, and Rick Pitino.

In the language of Eastern philosophy, can a basketball court be a dojo, a “place of enlightenment” in which disciplined athletes train their hearts and minds through the pursuit of physical excellence?


Six Key Principles to Success

This chapter titled Hardwood Dojos considers how basketball integrates values most attributed to success in any arena. Coaches have long used parallels of sports and life to motivate student-athletes to work harder or compete for what is most aspired. Philosophers question the existential behaviors that derive optimal happiness or utility. These are the six key principles authors found with the most overlap between coaches and philosophers:

1. Set Demanding Goals

As Coach Pitino reminds us, goals “give us a vision of a better future. They nourish our spirit; they represent possibility even when we are dragged down by reality. They keep us going.”


2. Make Hard Work Your Passion

And American philosopher William James (1842-1910) argued that effort is the true measure of a person, because “effort is the one strictly underived and original contribution we make to this world.


3. Establish Good Habits

Good habits are especially important in basketball, because so much of the game is repition. By forming good habits when we shoot, dribble, or defend, we make a muscle memory our ally and avoid the dangers of overthinking.


4. Be Persistent

And contemporary philosopher and corporate adviser Tom Morris reports that in his experience “the biggest difference between people who succeed at any difficult endeavor and those who do not is not usually talent. It is persistence.”


5. Learn From Adversity

As St. Paul – a man well acquainted with adversity – stated, “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character” (Romans 5:3).


6. Put the Team Before Yourself

As LA Lakers coach Phil Jackson points out, creating a successful team “requires the individuals involved to surrender their self-interest for the greater good so that the whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts.”


A Beautiful Game

The final chapter of the First Quarter of “Basketball and Philosophy” brings a hypothetical Final Four in to play with Jim Nantz as moderator between Dickie V. and Billy Packer debating a beautiful play.

“It’s BEAUTIFUL, BABY!” yelled Dickie V, as the unheralded junior dunked over his opponent, drawing a foul and tying the score with six seconds remaining in the championship game. “And one!”


The back and forth between caricatures of both analysts discuss what is perceived as a beautiful play in the game of basketball. Packer sees the play described above as productive, but not a thing of beauty. While personifying the profile of Dickie V, unsurprisingly he is enamored with the late-game dunk and game-winning free-throw enough to satisfy the opportunity to queue up another one-liner “NBN baby. Nothing but nylon!”

In the midst of the fictional Final Four is a breakdown of philosophical differences of what is perceived as beautiful. Whereas Dickie V claims as an expert analyst of the game beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Billy Packer counters there is an ideal form of beauty and everything else is an imitation; the dunk itself was not an ideal form of beauty.

Alright, now that we got that out of the way. What is it that coaches perceive as a beautiful play? Or the best imitation of a beautiful game?

Our sport continues to evolve stretching further from the rim and playing at a higher tempo. What was once considered a beautiful style of play could be seen as old-fashioned. Rather, those playing in a more traditional system likely have numbered breaks flowing into a very methodical motion offense, or continuity. Is there a right or wrong way to go about it philosophically?

In my opinion, the best version of the game of basketball comes from diverging differences of teams competing against one another. Take for example the Texas Tech and Virginia National Championship. The packline principles clashed with the sideline/baseline up-the-line denial defense. Similar, yet different with old-school offenses: Virginia with mover-blocker at the time peppering in contemporary ball-screen continuity against Texas Tech’s motion offense installed by once apprentice of Bobby Knight, head coach Chris Beard.

A beautiful game is limited in disruption from fouls or controversy giving enough sustainable time for competition to generate a rhythm displaying skill, scheme, and collaborative effort. A beautiful play demonstrates those same three characteristics in one possession. It isn’t always the drive and kick open space Villanova possession despite the sex appeal often shared on social media. Don’t get me wrong it is a preferable possession as a coach. But, my version of a beautiful possession invokes that same kind of ball-movement ‘Nova has exhibited within a series of actions. It would look something similar to this clip here:

2013 GSC Tournament: Christian Brothers University vs. University of Alabama-Huntsville

One thought on “Basketball And Philosophy: Beautiful Game

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