By Eric Neel
Page 2

EDITOR'S NOTE -- When we saw the results of our grid that rates the degree of difficulty of 60 different sports, we started arguing. (Hey, it's what we do.) One of the more heated debates involved basketball, which came in fourth. Is hoops overrated or underrated? David Schoenfield and Eric Neel, two of our most passionate sports fans, were compelled to make their cases here.

By David Schoenfield
Walk around your office or classroom and pick out a group of people to play an unspecified sport. If that sport is basketball, chances are that your group will be able to play without embarrassing itself.

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But if the sport is baseball? Or soccer? Or water polo? How many in your test group will be coordinated enough to throw a ball, catch a rocket grounder or hit a pitch that isn't coming in a 10-foot arc? Will they be able to run around for 90 minutes without taking a break? Will they be able to tread water while they're pushed, shoved, kicked and elbowed?

And yet, the panel of experts who ranked sports' degree of difficulty for us determined that basketball is the fourth-hardest sport to play.

Overrated, I say.

If basketball is so difficult, why is height often a prerequisite over skill? The NBA is full of players who are on rosters simply because they're taller than more skilled players.

Shawn Bradley
Would Shawn Bradley be in the NBA if he was, say, a foot shorter?

Look at it this way: How many people do you see in everyday life who are, say, 6-foot-8? Not very many. So why is there such a high percentage of tall people in the NBA?

Here's why. Because the game doesn't require a high level of athletic ability.

If basketball is so difficult, why can players jump directly from high school or college to the professional ranks and succeed immediately? This means that the difference in talent from the highest level to the lower levels is not very extreme -- which suggests that basketball is not a difficult sport to play.

If basketball is so difficult, why does LeBron James look so foolish trying to hit a baseball? Have you seen the video? Not pretty. But I guarantee you that David Wells can hit a 20-foot jump shot.

Look, Michael Jordan may have excelled at all 10 categories on our grid of athleticism. But that isn't the same as saying basketball is a difficult sport to play.

By Eric Neel
For starters, check yourself. The random game of hoops the folks from the typical office or classroom are playing IS embarrassing.

And compared to the game played at the highest levels, it's not just embarrassing -- it's unrecognizable.

Can Joe or Jane from the office play the elevated game, get shots off in traffic, dribble at a full sprint and hit a teammate filling the lane? Can they play both ends of the floor? Can they manage a crossover, a reverse lay-up, consistent shooting from beyond the arc, or perfectly-timed blocked shots?

And can they do any or all of this while an incredibly long, incredibly fit, incredibly strong athlete is all up in their grill?

Uh-uh.

Yeah, ballers are tall, and some are even JUST tall, just like some baseball players are just lefthanded and some football and soccer players are just fast. But most elite basketball players are tall and incredibly skilled, and their height makes what they can do with the ball, with their feet, with their jumping ability, and with their imaginations all the more difficult and impressive.

David Wells
Eric has his doubts about David Wells on a basketball court.

I'll tell you what you won't see in basketball: fat guys who can't move. In baseball, a tub of goo can still get it done -- the game is slow, it allows for all kinds of recovery time. In hoops, there's almost no down-time. And in terms of pressure, there's no doubt basketball is near the top of the charts. Every second you are on the basketball court, someone is actively trying to physically stop you; and you have to use your entire suite of athletic skills to succeed.

Sure, hitting a baseball is probably more difficult than any single element of basketball. But doing everything else basketball requires, under duress, is a lot more difficult than any other element of baseball or soccer, for example. And that's before we get to the analytic part of the game, and to the fact that ballers can't work or live in isolation but have to be conscious of and in tune with nine other players, some working with them and some against them, simultaneously, in tight quarters, and at a very high speed.

And as for your ideas about high-schoolers, D, let's keep two things in mind: One, we're talking about a very small percentage of talented, hard-working, very skilled young players who make the jump to the highest level (far fewer high school basketball players play on some professional level than high school baseball players, by the way). Two, in basketball, we're talking about a sport that, along with soccer, can be, and is, played by anyone anywhere at any time. We're talking about an incredibly large basketball-playing population, a population far bigger than that of baseball, hockey, water polo, golf, or any other sport you can think of that requires specialized equipment and circumstances.

So the folks who rise to the top of the basketball food chain have had to come through incredibly rigorous trials to distinguish themselves from the masses. Their difference from Office Joe and Joe Average is not less impressive than other sports. It's more impressive.

And lastly, I'll just say this: If you're guaranteeing David Wells can hit a 20-foot jump shot, I want some of that action right here and right now.

David Schoenfield is an editor for ESPN.com. Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.




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THE GREAT HOOPS DEBATE