While playing basketball during good weather on a popular outdoor court, a friend and I discussed what we perceive to be an issue: a lack of well-built outdoor basketball courts. To be well-built, we don’t ask for much: decent basketball poles and backboards, a decent court surface, and somewhat close to a regulation court size (and I have seen a number of courts that don’t meet one or more of these conditions). While I don’t have hard evidence that there is a lack of basketball courts (outside of personal experience living within a rather populated suburban area), here are some reasons why there may not be very many:
1. Basketball courts attract a certain kind of crowd: young men who can be loud and who might loiter around waiting for a game. This could be problematic for nearby suburban neighbors.
2. Basketball courts could be a liability risk for communities. People can run into poles, hang on the rim, suffer injuries on the concrete, etc. (I suspect this could be a problem for all sorts of outdoor equipment but I’m sure communities are prepared for this.)
3. Basketball courts could be expensive to maintain. The surface has to be pretty good because cracks aren’t great for dribbling. Nice nets would be helpful but these have to be replaced. (I can’t see how this would be that more expensive than maintaining a tennis court, however.)
4. Basketball courts are safer to monitor and maintain inside or in the driveway. Kids can be watched more closely. Indoors, the courts don’t get wet and players can’t loiter or throw litter in the sight of local residents in the same way. (Indoor courts can often require money, particularly if attached to a health club or park district. While these courts are often nicer, there is still something about playing outside – as long as the temperature is reasonable.)
5. There may not be much public outcry for basketball courts. The National Association of Sporting Goods has some numbers about basketball participation in 2010: 26.9 million Americans played more than once and this is 13th on the list of activities (though this includes non-exercise activities such as camping and fishing). According to 2008 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the “16% of persons who engaged in any sports or exercise activity on an average day,” 5.1% played basketball. And in a later chart looking at the same 16%, more 15-24 year-old people engaged in basketball than any other activity.
My friend was firmly for reason #1. Perhaps the closest equivalent I can think of are skate parks. Proposals for these recreational sites often draw interesting public reactions because of the crowd they attract.
Several pieces of data could shed light on whether this hypothesis is correct:
1. It would be interesting to see where basketball courts are typically built. Poorer or richer neighborhoods? Near homes or elsewhere?
2. How does the number of outdoor basketball courts compare to the number of outdoor tennis courts?
3. Who exactly pushes for basketball courts? Are outdoor basketball courts typically included in proposals for parks from developers or municipalities? Do residents have to make a suggestion?
I don’t know if any of this data exists. In Part 2 tomorrow, I will look at a few recent commentators that make their own argument about why there are not many outdoor basketball courts.