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HOYT PURVIS: Global picks and rolls

An international language by Hoyt Purvis | March 31, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Recent days have been full of picks and rolls as basketball has carved out a major piece of international sports.

Soccer ranks as No. 1 among viewed sports around the world, but we have seen basketball draw increasingly significant and impressive numbers of fans and participants.

Even the terminology in basketball has become intermingled with other aspects of our lives. We think of March Madness as primarily an American phenomenon, but so many of the players come from international backgrounds. Certainly that is seen in professional basketball and at all levels of competition — men and women.

Much of this spread of sports is conveyed online or through various forms of telecommunications. Two-thirds of Americans are sports viewers and/or players. The financial and cultural power is awesome.

In the current era, we have, as we all know too well, been under the shadow of covid-19. Although the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on sports scheduling — including basketball in particular — it is remarkable we have still managed to get in considerable basketball action at the scholastic or collegiate and professional levels.

The current competition is also characterized by its unpredictability. Seldom have we witnessed so many upsets, many of them involving exciting, last-second wins by the underdog team, with some games going into overtime.

There has definitely been a high level of excitement generated by the amazing come-from-behind Arkansas Razorbacks.

Fans, even those usually supporting other teams, tend to root against the favorite and best-known teams and often anchor their support behind a lesser-known team trying to pull off a Cinderella story in March Madness.

Basketball gives us the fast break and the full-court press. It isn’t unusual to hear reference to the full-court press in politics or business and not just sports, with groups or teams exerting maximum pressure on opponents for the entire length of the court.

Now, the pick-and-roll offense is increasingly integrated into our basketball battles. The pick and roll is also known as a ball screen or screen and roll.

In this play, one player sets a screen for a ball handler and moves toward the basket. A player sets a pick for a teammate handling the ball and then moves toward the basket to receive a pass. In the NBA, the play came into vogue in the 1990s and has developed into the league’s most common offensive action.

In case you don’t know, despite the steady barrage of commentary focused on the pick and roll, “pick” is just another name for a screen.

Although much of the attention and innovation in basketball comes from within the U.S., the growing popularity of the sport leads to the introduction of moves and strategies from elsewhere in the world.

A notable example is the Euro Step, which gets its name from the years it was used in European basketball leagues. The move was popularized in the NBA in the late 1990s and early 2000s by among others Manu Ginobli, the great shooting guard who played for the San Antonio Spurs in the U.S. plus teams in Europe and Latin America, and by Sarunas Marciulionis from Lithuania.

In the Euro step, an offensive player picks up his/her dribble, takes a step in one direction, and then quickly takes a second step in another direction. It is intended to allow the offensive player to evade a defender and attack the basket.

For those of us with a long history with basketball, this looks very much like “traveling,” which is an infraction of the traditional rules. But the Euro Step is more and more accepted as a regular part of the game.

Another feature of high-level basketball is the crowd-pleasing dunk, including the sometimes-spectacular slam dunk and other variations.

Years before they became legal moves, dunks were prohibited, banned in the NCAA from 1967-76. Removing the limitation allowed dunking to become a feature of games involving taller, more athletically talented players, many of them from the U.S. Some of the slam dunks are spectacular, as players jump with hands above the rim and throw the ball in the basket. (It isn’t unusual for an over-exuberant player to overshoot the basket.)

There is also the embarrassing “air ball,” when a player’s shot fails to make contact with any part of the backboard or goal, sometimes falling far short.

While basketball is booming, baseball, based in the U.S., continues to grow in popularity in parts of East Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.

A few years ago, I was visiting China with a congressional delegation and we met with a group of Chinese students. One of the members of the delegation asked a Chinese student of junior-high age who the student’s favorite player was, fully expecting the answer to be Michael Jordan. Instead, the young student responded and carefully enunciated “Scot-ee Pip-pen,” another example of the reach of sports through telecommunications.

All of this underlines the global nature of sports. The world loves sports, and sports are a major element of culture internationally. Complications do occur, however. Consider the Olympics, the flagship of international sports events. The Tokyo Games were originally scheduled for last year and we have seen plans, and postponement, restrictions, more plans, and more postponements, mainly due to the pandemic. As of now, a scaled-down program is on the agenda.

There is every reason to believe culture and cooperation in sports will continue to grow. There is a broad menu from which to choose – from hockey to track and field events and individual sports such as golf and gymnastics.

Other sports are developing large or targeted following. Soccer, known as “football” in most of the rest of the world, is the king and queen of sports. Football American-style has built huge audiences, but remains primarily centered in the United States. The only continent where soccer doesn’t reign supreme is North America.

Basketball is a relatively modern sport, dating from the late 19th century. By some measures, it is the fastest growing sport.

And, as we have seen in March Madness, there will be lots of picks and rolls ahead.

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Hoyt Purvis is an emeritus professor of journalism and international relations at the University of Arkansas. Email him at [email protected] .

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