Today I sat out a game and watched the guys run full court. As I watched them run back and forth, I couldn’t help but think about why Naismith decided to pick five as the number of people on a team.
It could very well be that the Dr. himself didn’t really give much thought to the number five and the number of players was arbitrary and based solely on the physical size of the playing area. However, the more I thought about it, the more I began to see correlations between five player teams in basketball and five player teams found in work, social, and family settings.
In many areas of my life, I see fives. I have five good friends, five work relationships that take precedence over the others, and five family bonds that together construct the foundation of my life. I probably live by five major principles, find five different types of jokes funny, have five different beers, like five things about women, and hate five things about people.
Okay, maybe that’s overkill. But seriously, I can see where there are roles filled in my life in groups of five. Let’s run through ’em.
The point guard is a handler. They are involved in everything, handling many issues over short periods of time. The distribute, communicate, lead, and assist others. A strong point guard is an important part of progress because they improve everyone around them on the offensive end, which is symbolic of the future.
Point guards are not without weakness. In fact, despite being able to process so many things at once and having such a strong influence on those around them, they are very vulnerable at times because they often overcommit and can overexert themselves on the offensive end. What makes them good at establishing the future makes them weak on defense, which I see as symbolic of security.
The shooting guard is often the star of the show. They thrive on attention, love the thrill of danger, and they live for taking the last shot. They aren’t afraid of failure, and will dive into battle against even the most powerful of enemies. In their greatest moments, they far exceed anyone’s expectations and can reach levels higher than any other team member. The shooting guard is important because it can inspire through its flashes of brilliance.
The ephemeral nature of the shooting guard’s brilliance provides balance. Life is up and down for a shooting guard. Where there can be such high peaks, there can also be deep valleys — shooting slumps — or depression — where things don’t go right, and that same killer instinct and fealesses can be easily transformed into doubt. Shooting guards depend heavily on the rest of their team for encouragement, support, and friendship (defense).
The small forward is there when you need them, and they do what you need them to do. They are about timing, placement, and balance. In all circles, the small forward is the utility person. They fill the gaps by providing encouragement, listening, leading, or producing where needed.
There aren’t any true peaks for the small forward. They would not be able to do any one thing very well, but the small forward is above average at everything. For this reason, they depend on the greatness of others, and feel more comfortable in a secondary role.
The power forward is about strength. They are the strongest team member, and that makes them good at getting great position (symbolic of determination and discipline). They can power through obstacles (other team’s defense) and also play great defense against people bigger than them. To me this correlates to being able to provide support during hard times.
The power forward lacks speed and quickness. While they are extremely powerful when on task, they cannot multi-task efficiently or keep tabs on everything without letting things fall through the cracks. They are focused on the present and generally do not see too far ahead (not visionary). They rely on shooting guards and point guards for that kind of contribution (outside shooting).
The center is a mountain. Mountains are always there. They are consistent, and you know what you’ll get from them. They perform day in and day out and don’t complain, mouth out, or try to extend past limits they are well aware of. The center excels at blocking shots (nullifying insults with reason), getting rebounds (helping the team regain composure), and helping on defense (providing support when others fail). The center is a passive leader, and leads through its example of loyalty, discipline, strength, and consistency.
The center is not the most offensive-minded player. Because of their lack of speed, they do not create their own shots, they get in position and do their thing when called upon. They are soldiers in the paint, but simple-minded soldiers. They rely upon their faster teammates to create offense (form ideas for the future).
putting it all together
Each team member has a strength and a weakness. Typically where one excels, another does not and vice versa. Through teamwork, weaknesses can be nullified and the team can accomplish things they could never do on their own. Naturally these roles bleed into each other — for example you could have a well balanced shooting guard and a “star-of-the-show” small forward. It’s all the same difference, though — somehow everyone sucks, and when they suck, they need someone else’s strength to pick up the team and maintain progress.
Despite the possibility that Naismith just chose 5 for the hell of it, I do believe that the number 5 is significant here. Coincidentally, Confucianism is founded upon 5 principles, the 5th planet is the solar system is the largest, we have 5 fingers on each hand, 5 toes on each foot, the human interpretation of stars has 5 points, and the Torah has five books. The list goes on and on — read more about five here.
Ultimately, what basketball has taught me is that nobody is perfect, and because of that it makes the relationships in our lives the deciding factors in the journey of life. If we cooperate with our teammates, we can accomplish things we never thought we could. If we try to do everything ourselves we will undoubtedly fail. Naismith may not have been preaching that, but I’m sure he wouldn’t be disappointed with the message I got:
Love others; without them you would lose.