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Without Basketball We Wouldn’t Have …

By Rachel Stark-Mason and Amy Wimmer Schwarb

Since the game was created in 1891, basketball has burrowed its way into American culture. Here’s a nostalgic look at some of our favorite things this sport has given us.  



Perhaps the most beloved sneaker of all time, the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars has secured loyal fans in a vast spectrum of fashion circles and subcultures in its 100 years of existence. But the canvas kicks with rubber soles got their start on the hardwood, originally winning over athletes who played the popular new sport of basketball in the early 20th century. In 1921, basketball player Chuck Taylor joined the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. and began selling the shoes at basketball clinics he held across the country. Taylor’s involvement brought popularity — and design enhancements — to the footwear venture, leading to him literally leaving his mark on the shoe: The iconic patch on the models of today still sports his signature.



There’s no way to definitively know who was the first to bring a towel to a sporting event and twirl it overhead in excitement. The Pittsburgh Steelers catapulted the rally towel concept to new heights with the invention of the Terrible Towel in the 1970s, but the roots of the tradition can be traced even further — to a legendary basketball coach at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers’ E.A. Diddle coached from 1922 to 1964, and along with becoming the first in history to coach 1,000 games at one school, he also was known for waving (and tossing, chewing, slapping and twisting) a towel during games. The Red Towel became a mainstay at Western Kentucky.



If there’s a one-hoop driveway basketball court, chances are a game of H‑O‑R‑S‑E has been played on it. If not, then maybe P‑I‑G — the shorter version of the popular pastime that helps kids practice shooting and spelling simultaneously.



This classic basketball arcade game has beckoned sharpshooters and wannabes for decades, tempting them with a seemingly simple challenge: Make as many shots as you can in a set amount of time. The basket so close, the balls so miniature, how hard could it be? Longtime coach Ken Cochran sought the answer when he was recovering from surgery in 1981 and created the first version of what would later be named the Pop-A-Shot. Electronic scoring, infrared lights and a lasting allure for the game soon followed. 



We have the orange leather ball to thank for films such as “Hoosiers” and “Space Jam.” (See more here for a tribute to other favorites.) 



Most basketball players have experienced it, and few will forget: the feeling of shooting and getting nothing but air, followed by the mocking, singsongy chant that spontaneously rises from the crowd. “AIIIIRRR BAAAALLL, AIIIIRRR BAAAALLL.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first printed use of the term “air ball” occurred in a 1967 newspaper article in the Daily Review of Hayward, California: “Cal State, four times lofting air balls at an orange basket that may as well have been painted invisible.” Basketball player or not, we can all relate to the humiliation of an air ball.



A new product is a slam dunk in the marketplace. A project completed close to deadline qualifies as a buzzer-beater. Employees post up their bosses to keep them in the know. Basketball is fertile ground for new idioms. And including basketball’s contributions to the English language in this list? A total layup.  



The sun is just now setting on a fashion trend that has dominated the hardwoods for a quarter-century: long, baggy basketball shorts. They were inspired by Michael Jordan, who asked the Chicago Bulls’ apparel supplier to drop their hems because he had a habit of tugging on his shorts, and further popularized in the college game by Michigan’s “Fab Five,” who in the early 1990s wore shorts that lingered below their knees. The trend migrated not only to women’s basketball, but also to men’s street fashion, where big and baggy dominated until about three years ago, when hemlines started creeping up once again and silhouettes became more fitted.



Everyone knows what happens after a college basketball champion is crowned: Out come the scissors and down come the nets. The tradition even has started to seep beyond basketball, with blades taken to volleyball and soccer nets, too. The ceremonious snipping of a souvenir first occurred in college in 1947 after North Carolina State won the Southern Conference championship. The Wolfpack hoisted coach Everett Case to cut the net, and a new rite was born.


About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.