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Monday, January 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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What is basketball but a ballet in sneakers?

Steve Christilaw Correspondent

You never know where things like this come into your life, but I’ve been a fan of Broadway musicals for as long as I can remember. Which is ironic in that I grew up just about as far away from Broadway as you can get without some kind of ocean travel.

Maybe it was the fact that the first movie I was ever taken to was “The Music Man,” or that the holidays while I was growing up always included an annual viewing of “Holiday Inn.”

I have seen every Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movie there is – including the one where Astaire did a dance routine with a hat rack and the one where Kelly did a number with Tom and Jerry.

You know that great scene from the movie “The Birdcage” where Robin Williams coaches that male dancer?

“You do an eclectic celebration of the dance! You do Fosse, Fosse, Fosse! You do Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham! Or Twyla, Twyla, Twyla! Or Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd! Or Madonna, Madonna, Madonna! But you keep it all inside.”

I may have been the only male in a full theater to have gotten every reference the first time.

I have Eleanor Powell saved on my YouTube favorites and still marvel at Vera-Ellen’s tap dance from “White Christmas.”

You know the mother/grandmother from Gilmore Girls? Kelly Bishop? Drives the family nuts that I keep reminding them that she won a Tony Award in the original cast of “A Chorus Line.”

I frequently drop my favorite Roy Scheider quote from the movie version of “All That Jazz:” “It’s showtime, folks!”

Yeah. No one catches the reference in real life either.

The fact that I know a kick-ball-change from a jazz box is one of the geekier things about me that I try to keep hidden from my family.

But it also informs the way I watch basketball.

Hey – what do we call that tournament at the end of every high school and college season? The Big Dance.

I remember watching the late Marty O’Brien teaching his Ephrata Tigers how to use their hands defensively and thinking it bore a strong resemblance to the way Bob Fosse taught his dancers “jazz hands.”

What you might call “basketball basics” has always struck me as “choreography.”

What is the three-man-weave but a simple line-dance with a basketball? And isn’t setting a pick the basketball version of the pas de deux?

University girls coach Mark Stinson was working on a basic play the other night, playing defense as players drove to the basket before kicking the ball out to a shooter in the corner for a 3-pointer. Basic choreography.

Watch the perimeter when an outside shooter performs a drop step and drives to the hoop. That’s a classic step-ball-change from your basic jazz dance class.

And when you get right down to it, the art of rebounding has as much to do with feeling the rhythm of the game and understanding the unique cadence made by a basketball caroming off the backboard as it does with understanding the intricate footwork that goes into establishing position under the rim.

You cannot deny there’s a distinct music to the game – it features its own metronome, for goodness sake!

Bouncing a basketball sets the beat for a game designed around syncopation and built like a great jazz song: a strong melody tailor-made for improvisation.

A basketball team sets its rhythm and lays down its themes. And around those themes comes the freedom of the occasional solo.

What do defenses do? Disrupt that rhythm.

What do we say when a team has lost its rhythm? They’re out of sync.

It’s no coincidence that the game is played by a quintet and that coaches are constantly stressing the importance of movement.

You don’t have to feel the music of the game to enjoy the game.

But if you can dribble a basketball, you got rhythm. And if you can pick-and-roll, you can definitely rock ’n’ roll.

Steve Christilaw can be reached at

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