Basketball and art

I never would have compared the two fields, except that I finally got around to watching The Last Dance on Netflix. Michael Jordan’s drive and ambition is exactly what most artists – if they ever aspire to any lasting notoriety – have at their core. I had the opportunity to see Jordan play in 1984 while he was still a youngster at UNC and before he became the great MJ. He was riveting, but so were other players in that same game; his teammate at UNC, Matt Doherty, and rival James Worthy from NC State. I still haven’t figured out which game they played and where, but I do remember the names. I have absolutely no interest in most sports, but basketball is fun to watch because it’s fast and dance-like.

Photo courtesy Andy Hayt
Photo courtesy NBA

Jordan had a strong father and mother pushing and supporting him, which evidently made all the difference. His father was especially close and after his death, Jordan takes a break from the sport. It’s questionable whether that model of support applies to the arts, since so many of us have intense parental conflicts that result in similar outcomes. My own father was highly supportive and nudged me into competitive arenas that included music, performing arts and sports. I was a disaster at his sport of tennis, but at least I was a decent swimmer thanks to early lessons as a kid, and the fact that he had a pool built in our backyard when my brother was a toddler. Those California roots gave us some homegrown options. It wasn’t until after he died that I became a lightning fast swimmer with great form. He would have loved that. As for art, if he hadn’t encouraged excellence and an innate ambition, I doubt I would have pursued a career in the field with such persistence. Sadly, he was gravely ill during most of my other two siblings’ formative years. Our mother, although she was a fine painter, was less apt to push any of us to excel. I suspect she thought I had enough of that from enduring advanced placement during middle and high school years in the Princeton public school system.

In watching the documentary, the one outstanding difference between Jordan and other players was his bravery and ability to exist fully in the moment. Someone in the film calls him a mystic. It’s a rare trait to deny failure or weakness, it doesn’t endear others to the person who exhibits that strength. He was seemingly as much beloved as he was despised. His siblings are mostly left out of the portrait, except for one older brother with whom he was excruciatingly competitive. I’m sure he was envied by the under achievers in his own family, those early days set the stage for his later accomplishments.

Sports is a pure form, like dance, in that the body magnifies and exalts the art of movement. There is no contrivance, the craft exists perhaps more in the triangulation of space (as in the ‘triangle offense’). My former painting teachers used to watch tennis for relaxation. I don’t especially enjoy watching sports, but the addiction to movement in swimming, hiking or simply digging in the garden is something I can relate to.

If you’ve never watched The Last Dance, it’s a fascinating look at the inner workings of a sports dynasty, and loads of fun to see the team work together to win those 6 NBA championships.

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