Sports are outer models of our inner psychological lives.
Society expresses itself through sports. When cultures change, so do games. Sports echo our working lives. Three examples:
- Baseball and the factory.
- Football and the corporation.
- Basketball and the full-stack professional.
Shifts in society begin with shifts in media:
- Baseball and radio.
- Football and TV.
- Basketball and social media.
Baseball was America’s first love. It was once the social center of American life and that’s why people call it “America’s pastime.” In baseball, one thing happens at a time. Like a factory, players have fixed positions and delegated, specialist jobs. Order is central. Baseball's lenient pace was perfect for the radio era. Announcers served as background noise for long car rides and work days.
But the rise of television in the 50s and 60s spawned the decline of baseball. Baseball was too slow for television — too static. Labor unions and the corporation peaked during this time period. The nature of work changed after World War II. Corporate work was generally more dynamic than factory work. To reflect this new work environment and the rise of television, America needed a new national sport.
TV fueled football’s rise. It's the ideal TV sport — fast-paced and dynamic. Instant replay, slow motion and graphics enhanced the game. Football is like the corporation. Many events occur simultaneously. Players plan their movements before each play and conform to their role. As David Walker observed, football was representative of American exceptionalism, its power on the global stage, and its cultural indifference towards delicacy.
Fantasy football further propelled football’s dominance. By drafting players and “owning” them for a season, fans had a reason to watch every game, even when their favorite team wasn’t playing. But modern culture — defined by the rise of social media — rewards individuality, which the football helmet hinders.
Today, football viewership is declining as people watch less and less television. Instead of watching TV, people use social media.
Like social media, basketball is all about the individual. The NBA thrives on strong personalities. The best players transcend their teams: Michael Jordan and the Bulls — LeBron and the Cavaliers. Sneaker culture says it all. Nike + Michael Jordan were pioneers with the Air Jordan I shoe in 1984. Fast forward to 2017 and we have Big Baller Brand.
Basketball and the future of work both demand a diversity of skills. In my own work, I write, create videos, produce podcasts, consult, and strategize. Basketball players are similar. They move freely between positions (they “switch”) and contribute on both offense and defense. The game allows for tons of optionality and real-time decision making.
Basketball reflects the future of work, culture, and society. As we enter a hyper-digital world, bet on the NBA.