Students Of The Game: Is Learning History A Necessary Course For Greatness?

History, like most of our general high school subjects, factors in our daily lives. While most of us no longer need to recount the specifics of the Louisiana Purchase, functions like trends, statistics and even memories serve to better move forward by looking back. History is part of why fantasy sports players feel so intelligently superior because they "knew" that sleeper player or superstar bust.

Recently, Milwaukee Bucks position-less phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo revealed that after coach Jason Kidd benched him, he had to use Wikipedia to see if Kidd had the credentials to make such a decision. Upon seeing Kidd's lengthy list of accomplishments, Giannis realized his coach was also once a great player.

How didn't Giannis know about Kidd's playing days when he sees his coach nearly every day? (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

Giannis Antetokounmpo is 22 years old. His revelation got me wondering whether someone his age should know about Jason Kidd the player. Furthermore, it made me — fairly or unfairly, which is what conflicts me — question if Giannis is truly a student of the game he is improving at at a remarkable rate.

Individually, Giannis not knowing the player accomplishments of a coach he sees nearly every day is disappointing, but he is of a unique circumstance. Antetokounmpo picked up basketball six years ago, so he didn't have a ball in his hands at an early age like most of us. I want to look at it in a broader scope: Should a 22-year-old lover of basketball know about players who were great during his adolescence?

Obviously, the history of one's passion has no bearing on one's current skill in said passion. Phillip Barnett does not write well solely because he has studied great writers, but studying great writers has helped him develop his ability to write well. Legendary authors like Ralph Wiley and Warsan Shire put words together so beautifully that words should thank them for the timeless love they've been shown. But ultimately, anyone can still be an outstanding writer without ever reading another's classic writing. It would be harder, yes, but definitely not impossible.

This comes up when searching, "Student of The Game." Thank you, Dr. Naismith. (Credit:

What's the incentive of learning about the past? Forget being "bound to repeat it" as a negatively veiled phrase. Basketball is not designed for perfect duplication. Two players can do the same move with the same precision, and there will still be distinct, discernible differences between those two players, even if they share the same success. Basketball is something in which the knowledge gained while studying assimilates itself into the very DNA of the player — as well as the fan and paid chronicler. The hoops realm shapes itself as a cloud of snow. Its inhabitants are snowflakes, similar to the naked eye, but the closer we look into them, the more we realize no two will ever be alike.

The incentive to peruse basketball history is to narrow the focus behind curiosity. Instead of trying anything through wonder, we have highly detailed hypotheses and theorems already at our whims. The equations have been created. We just have to do the math to solve our individual formulas. Why try to re-create the fade-away jumper over the right shoulder when so many players, regardless of position and stature, have crafted the blueprint? Just find the angles that work, individually. There's no need to be stubborn. We all need guidance.

I took this to Twitter. A brief conversation with @Stay_GLDN about it led me to a very interesting question: Should one be obligated to learn about the history of one's passion? It was followed by an even more interesting ideology that one's passion should lead him to and somewhat through the history of said passion.

This exchange really sparked my my journey through this hypothesis to continue.

I like to consider basketball a passion of mine. I've stated my former desire to watch old games. Even though I am not familiar with what would quantify as most of basketball's history, I would say I know a fair amount about the sport, including the time period before I was born and fell in love with it. I know most of the greats since the NBA has existed and even can recount a few players who were only dominant in high school or college. I would like to think my journey inward to basketball consciousness (sorry, I've watched "Westworld") may not have all the details, but it outlines how passionate I am about the sport.

I'm not asking young people to know every nuance of basketball to prove they like it. I'm not even asking them to like the aesthetics of the previous generations of hoops. I'm certainly against the romanticism of what was mostly terrible basketball. But I feel basketball knowledge includes both learning current triple-threat moves and greats of the past. I guess my major intimation is that because I want to maximize the potential of my physical skill, the journey will lead me to studying how players before me saw the game of basketball.

Giannis idolized Kobe, so he has some semblance of history in his makeup. (Credit:

"Should" is a dangerous parasite to the uniqueness of personal growth. But so is focusing squarely on the present and future. I don't think anyone is obligated to learn how every legend ventured through the maze of greatness, but there is an undefined amount of history one will acquire, through inspiration and comparison, on his individual path. An obsession with knowledge is not a requirement for greatness. History will find us as we strive to find ourselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *