This is a follow-up to my just-posted essay on my unchosen-but-apparently inexorable declining interest in baseball. My chief point there is that baseball has increasingly converged on a set of Best Practices but that convergence has made baseball less interesting to watch. (And my secondary point is that this is ironic because the practices now being converged upon are the ones I used to cheerlead for when they were far less common.)
That’s the way it has turned out in baseball, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. Take basketball, for instance, and more particularly all the controversy in the last NBA season about Lonzo Ball’s peculiar jump shot: I can remember a time when Lonzo’s technique wouldn’t have been unusual at all. When I first started watching basketball, in the 1970s, there were some weird-looking shots, let me tell you. The most notorious of these was the Jamaal Wilkes slingshot, but Jamaal had a lot of competition. Gradually, though, coaches at all levels came to understood that certain ways of holding and releasing the ball simply made for far greater and more consistent accuracy than others, and players started getting the relevant guidance even in their first organized games. So we have seen a very widespread convergence on the Best Practices of Shooting a Basketball.
And the result has been great for the game. It wasn’t just implementing the three-point line that created the free-flowing, open, spread-the-floor offense that the Golden State Warriors delight us with; it was the rise of a generation of players who have the shooting technique to take advantage of that line. In at least this one situation in this one sport, standardization of technique has led to increased creativity and possibility; in baseball, I fear, just the opposite has happened.
(I am now thinking that I ought to write a short book or long essay called “Rationalism in Sports” to serve as a counterpart to Oakeshott’s “Rationalism in Politics.”)