In the field of anthropology, it is quite common to cite or produce an ethnography, an assembly of fieldwork on a specific social organization. These ethnographies usually turn out the same way: what the Western world would consider a tribal or primitive society is looked at and their seemingly archaic and primordial system is unraveled to reveal an intricate social system not unlike our own. We are left shocked, with a newfound perspective on our own society, which we once considered superior. To throw a metaphorical shrimp into the whitefish salad, here’s our analysis of the inner workings of Jewish basketball games among youths:
Typical Cast of Characters
(With Theoretical Names)
JOEL “THE SHOT” STERNBERG
Always present in any pack of basketball-playing young Jewish males, Joel will literally make every shot attempted. He will not get in a cold streak. He will not get a hot hand, because that’s impossible when shooting 100 percent from the field. Joel will never attempt to play basketball for his school or professionally. Joel will major in political science.
JACOB “SHOT 2.0” STERNBERG
Joel’s little brother and understudy. Although Jacob is 3 years younger than all the other players and 5 inches shorter, he could very well be the second-best player on the team. He can hit almost any shot, and will reach Joel’s level in a couple of years. All the other players sense this, and tell Joel his brother is gay and should play with his own friends. Jacob will major in political science.
BRIAN “FOUL” FLINCHSTEIN
Brian’s main contribution to a team is his shameless foul-calling. He doesn’t attempt to touch the ball on offense, but is a certainly a presence in the key on defense. He loves his mother and fantasy sports.
DAVID “BRICK” ABRAMOWICZ
Like Joel, David defies any cold or hot streaks. This is because he consistently hits 7 percent of all shots taken. Whether shooting a lay-up or a half-court shot, David will miss the basket 93 percent of the time. Out of pride, he will never use the backboard. David sports sleeveless shirts like it’s his job.
MICHAEL “HOOK SHOT” FISHMAN, AKA “BRICK 2.0”
Similar to David, Michael will make 5 to 10 percent of all shots taken. However, all of Michael’s shots are hook shots and are preceded by Michael shouting, “Hook shot!” In high school, Michael will be the first of the group to try pot and sport the Jewish Afro.
JASON “VERY TALL” COHN
Ever since grade school, Jason has been at least 4 inches taller than his classmates. Unreasonably insecure, Jason doesn’t like to shoot the ball. However, when closer than 5 feet from the basket, Jason will obtain every rebound, making him a valuable player. Jason will be the first of the group to have a girlfriend. Jason will also eventually start on junior varsity, making him the pride of the group.
Drafting for Teams
and Social Dynamics
It becomes surprisingly obvious that, while drafting for teams, players rely minimally on assessments of basketball skill and tend to put an emphasis on social relations. One day, preceding a basketball get-together, Joel laughed at Michael because his mom still makes his school lunches. In addition, Jason bought the newest pair of Michael Jordan basketball shoes in dark blue, even though David had stated a week earlier that he planned to buy the shoes, in dark blue. Situations such as these result in lopsided matchups. The next day, due to the residual hard feelings among friends, Joel, Jacob, and Jason competed against Brian, David, and Michael. The final score was 21–2, with both of the latter team’s points having been scored on demanded foul shots, by Brian.
Despite games such as the aforementioned, wins and losses will rarely by attributed to skill or participation and more often to luck or missed fouls. Both Michael and David complained of the cold weather’s effect on their hands, and Brian taunted Joel, saying he was lucky he, Brian, had sprained his wrist a month ago. After Jason called Brian out on his lie, David hit Jason in the knee with the ball. To put everything back in order, Jason lifted both arms above his head, casually revealing not only a respectable pit stain but also an ever-growing mound of armpit hair.
Observing the recreational Jewish youth basketball group provides a glimpse into the lives of young people. Though the group will play religiously (up to five or six games a week), some participants will find that the relative flatness of their learning curve, derived from their intrinsic physical flaws, will leave them with a strong distaste for the game. However, some, if not many, of the members will overcome this distaste and will re-enter the sport in midlife in their local Jewish community center’s men’s recreational basketball league. Fieldwork by Samson (1999) and Donaldson (2002) shows that the social dynamics of these men’s teams are almost identical to those discussed in this paper.