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Sport Heritage Trails

Here in the United States, we have seen an increase in the ways that heritage is presented, marketed, and sustained – particularly in rural regions. Many small towns and communities have museums, historic sites, and heritage markers that – individually – may have challenges attracting visitors and interest. The new approach – which is also seen in broader forms of heritage designation, including at the World Heritage level – is to view heritage more holistically, at least in terms of geography.

As such many sites are linking together as part of theme-based heritage “trails” in order to both adequately reflect connections between sites as well as pool resources for marketing and promotion. Theme-based trails have demonstrated some success in rural economic development and can be important catalysts for identifying, recognizing, and sustaining important aspects of culture, heritage, and industry in rural and peripheral regions. Typical themes for trails include religious and pilgrimage routes, migration and trade routes, as well as industrial, cultural, and literary routes, although food-based trails have also become popular trail theme in recent years. It is assumed that all members of trails share common goals as to the purpose and outcomes of trail development, although this may not always be the case.

In any event, though many other forms of heritage – particularly those specific to popular cultures like music, literature, and food – have embraced the heritage trail concept, there appear to be relatively few sport heritage-specific trails that link sporting attractions, sites, places, and markers together. Perhaps the best local example of this concept might be the Packers Heritage Trail in Green Bay, that links important sites in the community to the heritage of the Green Bay Packers football team. On a broader regional basis, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama is one example of a sporting trail, though the actual historical/heritage component this trail is perhaps not as prominent as would exist in other regional heritage trails like the Virginia “Crooked Road” music trail.

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The seemingly limited use of sport heritage in trail development begs a few questions. First, are there other trails besides the ones listed above that are exclusively sport-based, particularly those that are regional driving trails (i.e.: require a car) rather than a local walking trail? Second, if sport heritage is not being used as a theme for trail development, why is it not being used? Has it not been considered, or has it been considered and dismissed? Third, if sport heritage has been considered and dismissed in trail development, what were the reasons? Does it have to do with marketability, or lack of sites/attractions in a region, or something else (e.g.: competition between sites)?

Sport heritage seems like it could be a strong theme for some kind of trail development – particularly around a common theme like particular sports (baseball, basketball, hockey) or famous athletes. Yet, there are apparently few examples of sport heritage being used in trail development, and I am curious as to why this is the case.

 

Philadelphia

Last weekend, I had the chance to visit Philadelphia for the first time.  The reason for my visit was a brief get-together with my older brother, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  We don’t get a chance to see each other very often these days, and Philadelphia was a short, non-stop flight for both of us to meet up, have a couple of beers, and watch a sporting event or two.

Before I get to the sport heritage part of the trip, I have to say that Philadelphia is a great city!  I was only there for a few days, mind you, and I was staying at a VRBO in the “old city” about three blocks from the Independence Hall World Heritage Site.  That said, I found it a very walkable city with some some really neat neighbourhoods, great museums (I wish I could have visited more of them), and good food and drink.  The people we met there were “authentic” – as convoluted as that word is.  They didn’t put on airs, I guess, and I imagine had we pissed them off, they’d tell us so.  In general, when we told people we were from out of town, they were glad we visited, gave us a bit of friendly advice (like – if you’re going to an Eagles game, cheer for the Eagles…even if you like the other team), and generally let us be.  Was rather refreshing, actually.

However, one cannot partake in a sports trip to Philadelphia without noticing that city’s sport heritage is very prominent.  Even in the city centre, steps away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, was an advertisement for a recent baseball exhibition at the National Museum of American Jewish History:

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Of course, I wrote recently about the tension that (appears) to exist between the city’s “real” sport heritage and its fictionalized portrayals.  However, one cannot escape that the sporting past plays a huge role in the city’s current identity.

The city has a quasi-“arena district” just outside of the city centre that houses the baseball stadium, football stadium, and hockey/basketball arena, with a kind-of bar/entertainment facility called Xfinity Live.  Now, the arena district is, basically, the three venues, the bar facility, and parking lots.  However, it is the city’s sport heritage that gives the district a sense of place.  Xfinity Live, for example, is on the one-time site of the Spectrum, long-time home of the NHL Flyers and NBA 76ers. Inside the venue, the Spectrum is remembered…in bar form:

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The heyday of the Philadelphia Flyers are also recalled at Xfinity Live (and, also in bar form).  The Flyers were known as the “Broad Street Bullies” during the 1970s, as the team was known for their aggressive style of play, and so fans can now soak-in the nostalgia at a Flyers-themed pub:

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Around Xfinity Live are statues of ex-players, such as 76ers player “Dr. J” – Julius Erving.  Perhaps most interesting was the statue of long-time anthem singer at the Spectrum, Kate Smith:

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Smith’s rendition of God Bless America was a bit of a talisman for Philadelphia teams, particularly the Flyers.  Whenever she sang, the Flyers almost always won.  After she passed away, the Flyers used to show a video of her singing, particularly if they really needed a victory:

We managed to go to a Flyers game and Eagles game during our stay.  The Flyers arena, the Wells Fargo Center, is about 20 years old, so it doesn’t have a lengthy history.  That said, there were a few reminders of the Flyers glorious past, as well as some displays honouring past players – including the late, great Pelle Lindbergh, who was one of the best goaltenders in the NHL in the mid 1980s until he died in a car crash at age 26:

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The Flyers game itself was fantastic, with the home team holding on for a 4-3 victory versus the Colorado Avalanche:

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The Eagles game was played on the day before Veterans Day, so the patriotism was particularly prominent before game time:

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The game itself was a bit of a laugher, as the Eagles beat the visiting Carolina Panthers 45-21.  While I’m a Panthers fan, I did root for the Eagles – I think I may have only spotted one other Panthers fan, and I imagine he might have received his fair share of abuse during the game.  Eagles fans REALLY love the Eagles:20141110_205158

Great trip, all in all, but it did also got me thinking about a couple of heritage/sport heritage items and issues:

  • Legitimacy and commodification: The city has a remarkable sport heritage – in part, perhaps, because they have a notable and lengthy sport history.  The breadth and depth of the city’s sporting past gave the heritage markers legitimacy and, I suppose, made them more more apt to be commodified (in bar form and otherwise).  In other words, the city’s sport history made its sport heritage more recognizable, gave it greater resonance, and made it easier to sell to a broad-base of fans.
  • Different sports generating more/fewer sport heritage markers: It seemed that, at least to my eye, that the Flyers seem to have cornered the market on sport heritage markers in Philadelphia – or, at least in the arena district.  Despite the presence of the Phillies and Eagles stadiums – and the likelihood that both the baseball and football teams have more support than the hockey team – most of the heritage, from the bars to the displays to the statues, were hockey-based.  Not sure if it is down to ownership of places like Xfinity Live, or if the Flyers have just done a better job of using heritage in marketing, or if fans are just more nostalgic about the Flyers than the Eagles, Phillies, and 76ers.
  • Heritage retail: As far as I know, there hasn’t been much done on heritage retail.  That is to say, either retail stores that sell heritage products (in Philadelphia, Ben Franklin is a commodity), or shopping districts, stores, or eateries that are meant to look “olde timey.”  Philadelphia has heritage retail in spades, and I wonder whether it might be a good case study.
  • Public/private heritage spaces: Not sport heritage, but the Independence Mall area of Philadelphia has a curious blend of public and private run heritage attractions/retail, etc.  That is to say, it is somewhat unclear at times whether a space is public (that is to say, publicly operated through the National Parks Service) or Private (either as a CVB, museum, gift shop, or other heritage attraction).  At times, the aesthetic of the attractions and employees are so similar (and, at times, the spaces are so intermingled) that it is not always clear who runs what, and to what end.

Cultures of Play

I know very little about basketball.  Normally, this lack of knowledge does not hinder my professional life, even working in sport heritage research.  However, being on a basketball tour of Italy – as I am now with the Clemson men’s team – I have had to make a quick study of the sport and its nuances.  I have to admit, many of the cultural dynamics of the sport would have escaped me had it not been for the players describing the Italian style of play in cultural terms. To wit, they have been keeping travel journals as part of their coursework, and many have described how Italian basketball players and teams have a different “culture” in terms of how they play, and how this is one of the main differences that they have noted between Italy and the US.  For example, many of the players note that the Italian teams they have faced are very good outside shooters, and that they don’t play the same, inside aggressive style as US teams do.  Similarly, they said that the teams are quite good at passing, which is not as prevalent in US basketball.

Of course, there have also been some cultural adjustments that the players have had to face.  For example, in last night’s game just outside of Florence (which Clemson won handily 103-58) Clemson was called for travelling (or “walking” as the Clemson coaches call it – again, another reference that was foreign to me) 15 times.  As it was explained to me, this was in part because the rules – and the way they are called in Europe – differ from the way they are in the US.  Of course, this cultural difference was frustrating to the players and coaches, even though the knew they had to adjust to the local interpretation of the rule rather than vice-versa.

However, even for a hockey guy like me, there are some cultural traditions on this tour that are familiar.  For example, there is an exchange of gifts at the beginning of the match – which is very common in other international competitions – and the opposing teams have been posing for pictures with one another after the game (see below).  Last night, they even played the national anthems of the US and Italy – even though the game was held in a small gymnasium in front of, perhaps, 100 spectators.  

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A Type of Sport Heritage

I am in Italy at the moment with the Clemson men’s basketball team.  As part of their trip, many of the players have been taking a course for academic credit – essentially, a revised (i.e.: site-specific) version of my undergraduate heritage tourism class that I deliver each year at Clemson University.  We met three times back in South Carolina, covered some of the basics of heritage tourism, heritage site management, and UNESCO World Heritage sites.  On site, the student athletes will be completing some assignments for the course – in addition to playing four games over a ten day period across the country.

In any event, I was pleased that our first stop of this sports tour was a kind of sport heritage site – perhaps one of the most famous “sport” sites in the world, in fact:

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