“Konchalski is New York’s chief basketball curator and historian, someone who has long celebrated the city’s excellence, but on that afternoon, riding out to Long Island, he looked out at the playground courts and felt troubled by what he saw. For decades, those courts had been filled with ballplayers, kids shoveling the snow or stumbling through the heat so they could go 1-on-15 in overcrowded games of 21.5 Courts like these had molded players like Cousy and King and Mullin into stars; these blacktops had turned playground savants like Earl ‘The Goat’ Manigault and Joe ‘The Destroyer’ Hammond into city legends. But now, out the window, he saw skateboards. Not basketballs. Skateboards.” — “The Mecca in Decline: Why doesn’t New York City produce elite NBA talent like it used to?“
The excerpt above is from Jordan Ritter Conn’s excellent Grantland article about the declining level of basketball talent in New York City (Lance Stephenson withstanding, obvs.) Even if you don’t follow the sport, it is an interesting take on the evolution of recreational activity in this city.
Basketball has long been New York’s main athletic export. It has never been able to accommodate the space required for a football or baseball field, hence the lack of MLB or NFL players to emerge from the city. Except now, even NCAA Division I basketball prospects are going elsewhere, as it has grown so strained for space that courts and adequate high school facilities are becoming scarce. There is less cultural importance placed on the game because there is less space to play it.
Couple this with the fact that “for the first time in nearly a hundred years, the rate of urban population growth outpaced suburban growth, reversing a trend that held steady for every decade since the invention of the automobile.” Do you think there is going to be any more space for traditional sports in cities, let alone New York?
Konchalski’s observation that skateboards are becoming more common on basketball courts than basketballs is interesting when juxtaposed against a certain line of thinking that emanates from the “state of skateboarding” crowd. (Worst phrase ever, by the way.) There has always been a certain breed of doomsayer who would ask “Well when skateboarding isn’t popular, where is so-and-so going to be and what is so-and-so going to do?” …what? Do you guys live in some town where twenty people skate and four of them quit so skateboarding became 20% less popular? Have you walked around any major American city lately — even the ones with minimal skate spots? There is a skateboard rattling behind your head every ten, if not five minutes.
And no, l*ngb**rds don’t rattle.
An early nineties-esque decline isn’t happening in 2019, or ever. Maybe it’s an optimistic stance to take, but these hoards of young people leaving the suburbs aren’t only interested in pretending to go to photography school, Tinder, and hour-long brunch lines. People still like to do shit and be active, and there is increasingly less space to accommodate the sort of young person who participates in traditional sports throughout many cities.
New York’s oldest basketball scout making a joke about how we are overrunning his courts only further invalidates the assumption that skateboarding is on pace for some sort of “inevitable” decline. Skateboarders are roaches and rats on the scale of spatial requirements for athletic activity. Plaza skating is close to dead in America, yet every single scene has figured out a way to work around and thrive beyond that.
Growth has negative aspects, and yes, this will lead to more knobbed spots, more crowded skateparks, etc. The sooner American cities begin to acknowledge a more sophisticated way of thinking than “skaters = skateparks,” the quicker we’ll all begin to find a solution to the growth. On the plus side, we don’t need a proportional rectangle the same way basketball does. We’re more than content taking the shittiest, dustiest, most underused corner of the city, as long as you leave us alone in it.
Rant over :)