Basketball Culture 101: A Student’s Perspective

We are excited to announce that Matt Gordon, a student in Professor Yago Colás’ “Cultures in Basketball” class at the University of Michigan , and research contributer at, has generously agreed to share his experience of “Cultures in Basketball” on our blog. Matt has been working with us over the last few weeks, and consistently brings great ideas to the table. It turns out Matt is also a great writer, and we are looking forward to reading his student-based perspective of professor Colás’ course. You can also follow Matt on Twitter @matogo18.

We’d also like to note that we are huge fans of Professor Colás’ blog “Go Yago”, which provides a refreshingly candid and entertaining diary of his course. You can follow Yago at his blog Go Yago! or his twitter account @yagocolas.

When asked to write a blog about “Cultures of Basketball,” a real course I am taking at the University of Michigan – it was hard to say no. I grew up in Highland Park (suburb of Chicago and MJ’s home for years) in the 90’s – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess who got me hooked on basketball as soon as I could read and write: Dickey Simpkins and Will Perdue.

Ok, so maybe it was mainly Michael, Scottie, and Phil that captured my imagination, but in all honesty, names like Simpkins and Perdue do mean something to me. These names are microcosms of the beauty of basketball. Stars have and will always run the game – but you can’t fully understand or appreciate the game without role players. To me, role players are one of the best reasons why basketball is so great. Pinch hitters and middle relievers in baseball are essentially the equivalent of role players in basketball. However, nobody strives to be a middle reliever or pinch hitter – those that end up filling those roles are usually simply not as good as the starters. In basketball, you may say the same thing – the first through seventh guys off the bench just are not good enough to start. However, while these bench players may not have the same skill levels as all starters – their importance is enormous relative to non-stars in any other sport. Think of some of the greatest moments in NBA history, many involved role players in leading roles: Robert Horry about 100 times, Steve Kerr in ’97 and ’03, John Paxson and Horace Grant in ’93, Mario Elie in ’95, and so on. Horry’s career average? 1 point for each of his 7 championships. Still – chemistry and depth are so important in the NBA that it is not enough to simply know the Starting 5. The NBA may be a star-driven league, but no star gets to drive through his city on a parade float unless his team is strong, top to bottom. Every player on an NBA team has a role, a story, a meaning. For the fan, this opens up a Pandora’s box of analysis, statistics, and talk. People dedicate their lives to dissecting why James Johnson doesn’t play more and whether Nikola Pekovic is an alien. While Carmelo trade talk dominates the mainstream media, many hardcore fans would rather discuss whether Nic Batum can step up in Portland or if Ronnie Brewer should be starting over the lifeless Keith Bogans.

Why does this matter? There are just so many different elements that comprise the game of basketball, many lying well beyond simple X’s and O’s, that its culture is now being taught in a University classroom. As one of the lucky students in this class, I will write about our discussions, along with my thoughts on the class dynamic and how it helps me understand the game. I will do my best to convey the facts we learn along with my interpretations. Hopefully, it will be a fun ride.

Matt Gordon is a senior at University of Michigan.  His posts will be appearing weekly on on Tuesdays.  You can follow Matt on twitter @matogo18.