Rock, paper, scissor, ball! Basketball Australia's Return to Basketball guidelines

This is interesting.

Rock, Paper, Scissor tee (Limited edition) on The Pick and Roll’s online shop


In the pandemic era, people across the world have been clamouring for a return to normalcy.

"When will things go back to normal?" they cry to the heavens, whether that be resuming work and having a steady income, seeing friends or family after months of separation, or because Karen wants a haircut.

What fewer seem to acknowledge, however, is that as life's little trivialities are reintroduced bit by bit, they're not necessarily normal, in the strictest sense of the word.

This was the case when Basketball Australia announced the guidelines for their Return to Basketball scheme — an initiative to bring basketball back at a grassroots level across the country.

Basketball, thou art changed!

There's a lot to disentangle here, with the corresponding PDF stretching across 16 pages of instructions, and the very image on the very first page already presenting more questions than answers.

Why does it encourage such a blatant display of hero ball? There's four defenders on this kid, why are they putting up this low percentage shot when their teammates would be wide open? Perhaps there's more to this, and the shooter in question has noticed that the opponents have no hops whatsoever — one of them hasn't even bothered to leave the ground, and another appears to actually be playing with an invisible skipping rope in a disinterested fashion.

Sorry, what? Oh yeah, Return to Basketball.

The principles at its core are fairly consistent with the general advice we've been receiving over the last few months; staying hygienic, limiting the amount of people gathered (which seems like a great chance to get rid of pantomime skipping kid, she's clearly dead weight) and minimising contact in what is, by its very nature, a contact sport.

To start, pregame is all but wiped out, with players encouraged not to arrive more than 10 minutes before "tipoff", and yes, we'll address the reason for those quotation marks shortly.

Hand sanitisers will feature prominently in the modern basketball world, and surely some bold entrepreneur will find a way to market the "best sanitiser for true ballers" before long. Personally, I can't help but think that that will make everything super slippery.

Balls will be sanitised before, during and after games, and I legitimately didn't know how to properly sanitise a basketball before doing a cursory Google search (big bucket of water and a mild detergent). I also found out how to disinfect a wicker basket in the process, in case you were curious.

The rules for the aforementioned "tipoff" are among the most interesting, suggesting that first possession should be determined by a coin flip or a game of "rock, paper, scissor". Not scissors, mind you, but a singular scissor, which could just be literally flipping someone off.

Let that visual sink in for a second. Think of your favourite basketball player, preferably the toughest, meanest one on the court, duelling with their foes in a round of rock, paper, scissors. Would it still fall on the bigs, or are guards better equipped for such a dexterous challenge?

Putting the jibes aside for a moment... all of this, obtuse as it may seem, makes sense. It comes down to making things cleaner and thereby, safer. Such concessions are easier for people to handle than complete abstinence.

In a piece for the Sydney Morning Herald published on the same day the guidelines went out — at midnight, no less, a fact that made me giggle about the curious literal natures of embargoes — Roy Ward highlighted a few quotes from BA chief executive Jerril Rechter.

"The way people walk into the venue, the way they leave the venue, the way they need to be on court and the practices we need to put in place will become natural and our basketball sector is ready to show we have done a huge [amount] of work for the rebound of the sport," Rechter said.

Many of these adjustments won't prove to be an issue. Enter and exit from different points, staggered with other teams? Sure thing. Shower and change at home, as opposed to on-site? Not a problem.

The true test will be breaking on-court habits, and many athletes — professional, amateur or hobbyist — will likely struggle with this more than they anticipated.

Page 6 states that instances of unnecessary contact are forbidden, and lists three examples: hand shakes, high fives and pushing off the ball.

When you're in the heat of the moment, those first two examples are sure to be forgotten at least a few times. It's human nature to seek physical contact as celebration, particularly at critical moments.

The third will be more interesting, because for some players, slyly pushing off the ball is a part of their repertoire. Extend this further, and you begin to ask yourself what constitutes unnecessary contact.

Will players be allowed to draw charges? Box out? Fight for loose balls on the floor? None of this is 'necessary', per se, though they're all parts of the game that are ingrained within us, and more significantly, clear breaches of social distancing.

Just think of everything that you do when playing a game of basketball, especially things that you do subconsciously. Free throw routines, for example, will have to change: no more licking your fingers, kissing the ball, or spitting in the eye of the nearest opponent.

If people are reasonable and follow these mandates to the letter of the law, then we should be fine. The issue is that many of us are not reasonable. You give someone an inch, they'll take a mile, and the events of a game of basketball run dangerously parallel with the methods of transferring COVID-19.

As per the Department of Health website, transferal occurs from:

  • close contact with an infectious person (including in the 48 hours before they had symptoms)

  • contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze

  • touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face

We all want sports back. We all want life back. I'd just strongly recommend that anyone who wants to rush into that first one, please consider how any lapse that spreads the infection, will invariably delay the second longer than necessary.

I leave you with this line from Men in Black, to interpret however you choose in these peculiar times: "a person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."