Basketball, as is true of other popular Western sports, serves as a symbol in itself for both the material and the non-material culture. The game is symbolic in that the values and beliefs of the society, which are not physical or non-material, of the society are expressed within it. For example, Americans place a high value on competition. It drives the society’s capitalist commerce and it is perceived as an enabling instrument as well; that is, it is believed that competition equalizes, and allows every individual the opportunity to achieve more than others. In basketball, then, each player represents this opportunity. Star players are singled out as exceptional and receive higher compensation and fame, so the non-material concept of competition as a social advantage is evident in the game.
Equally in force in basketball is the non-material value of teamwork. American culture greatly emphasizes the virtues of a collective working together to achieve a common goal. This is in fact an ideology deeply embedded in American thinking, and basketball represents it completely in terms of team rivalries. Star players are esteemed, but most fans still insist on the welfare of the team as most important. This parallels the reinforcement of teamwork so commonly made in business today, just as that in turn reflects basic concepts of working together fundamental to the culture’s core belief system. Americans admire the exceptional, but they also insist on its remaining within the collective effort, which in turn supports the belief in supporting one another.
With regard to material culture, basketball is very much representative of a certain type. The material, of course, exists in the physicality made or used by the culture, and the venues of the game embody this. Fans go to arenas and stadiums to see their teams play, and these places have a distinctly cultural function; they are the locations wherein recreation, as well as a celebration of the value of competitive sports, are expressed. The material also connects to the non-material, in terms of team uniforms and sports gear associated with the athletes. Value is attached to these material items because they represent the non-material belief in basketball as promoting the values of sport.
Then, and in an evident way, basketball is a game that reflects the culture’s norms.
In the society, norms are the behaviors so widely practiced, they take on the quality of being “social policy.” They exist as understood patterns of appropriate behavior, and basketball’s rules are then distinct versions of these norms. For example, a foul is called when a player incorrectly touches or interferes physically with another, and this reflects the norms of acceptable conduct and non-aggression. The game merely defines the norms more precisely, and attaches penalties to violations of them. Other basketball rules also represent norms, as in the basic one of equal numbers of players per team and the timing of the game. Competition is valued, but the culture insists that it be regulated to ensure fairness, and this is a fundamental norm basketball embodies.