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That Tumblr featuring Michael Jordan wearing questionable outfits

Hockey vs. basketball: which is more culturally relevant?

Wilt Chamberlain, spiked-baller.
Wilt Chamberlain, spiked-baller.

Dear Hipster:

Around this time of year I always feel like the world’s attention is divided, at least a little bit, between hockey and basketball. Of course, by “the world” I mean “popular televised American sporting events,” but I’m sure you get the picture. You have local pubs that choose to focus on Stanley Cup playoffs, and you have those which instead opt for the NBA playoffs. But even though the two sports occur more or less simultaneously — crowning their respective champions in the early summer — they certainly differ in many material respects, not the least of which being the fanbases. Based on my observations, basketball tends to draw in more traditional sports fans, whereas hockey fans tend to be a more eclectic bunch, and I see a lot more hockey fans who seem to be more hipster. Given the contemporaneous slots they occupy on the sporting calendar, is hockey basketball for hipsters?

— Tony

Basketball certainly has its hipster moments. Although many of basketball’s hipster highlights happened off the court, you have to give it up for the short shorts of the 1970s. Wilt Chamberlain appearing in Conan the Destroyer comes to mind, as does Kareem Abdul-Jabbar breaking character to deliver the line “Tell your dad to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes!” in the movie Airplane. There was that Tumblr that ran for many years featuring pictures of Michael Jordan wearing questionable outfits. The simple existence of the Shaq Fu video game is hipster because you couldn’t come up with a weirder, more ironic joke if you tried. Sneakers with little pumps on them are hipster as hell, at least in hindsight, and basically everything about Dennis Rodman generally (seriously, the dude has decided to become friends with Kim Jong Un) and Dennis Rodman’s hair in particular just doesn’t make any sense unless you see it as some sort of ironic joke.

Hockey, on the other hand, has deep hipster roots. From its ties to Canada (beloved by hipsters who threaten to move there when their disenchantment with the US rises) to its long relationship with mustaches and the mullet (sometimes called “hockey hair”), ice hockey has always worn the metaphorical skinny jeans of the sporting world. Hockey has a weirdly hipster heritage as a fixture of American culture, too.

In the 1980s, basketball culture was so racist that it didn’t seem at all weird to call Larry Bird “the Great White Hope” (ugh), while hockey was engaged in a protracted battle with the Soviet Union for the soul of the sporting world following the “Miracle on Ice.” I’m pretty sure anyone who had to pick between those competing 1980s legacies would take smashing communism over a simmering race war. Even if the (dark) cultural legacy of 1980s basketball is probably more culturally relevant in terms of what it says about us as a nation, both as to where we come from and where we’re going (hopefully, as far away from the culture of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry as possible), the Cold War aspect of ice hockey sounds a quirkier, more hipster note. Thus, your assessment is probably correct, notwithstanding numerous exceptions to the rule. Now, I don’t mean to say one sport is better than the other. But on balance, hockey is probably the more hipster sport, so make of that what you will.

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Wilt Chamberlain, spiked-baller.
Wilt Chamberlain, spiked-baller.

Dear Hipster:

Around this time of year I always feel like the world’s attention is divided, at least a little bit, between hockey and basketball. Of course, by “the world” I mean “popular televised American sporting events,” but I’m sure you get the picture. You have local pubs that choose to focus on Stanley Cup playoffs, and you have those which instead opt for the NBA playoffs. But even though the two sports occur more or less simultaneously — crowning their respective champions in the early summer — they certainly differ in many material respects, not the least of which being the fanbases. Based on my observations, basketball tends to draw in more traditional sports fans, whereas hockey fans tend to be a more eclectic bunch, and I see a lot more hockey fans who seem to be more hipster. Given the contemporaneous slots they occupy on the sporting calendar, is hockey basketball for hipsters?

— Tony

Basketball certainly has its hipster moments. Although many of basketball’s hipster highlights happened off the court, you have to give it up for the short shorts of the 1970s. Wilt Chamberlain appearing in Conan the Destroyer comes to mind, as does Kareem Abdul-Jabbar breaking character to deliver the line “Tell your dad to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes!” in the movie Airplane. There was that Tumblr that ran for many years featuring pictures of Michael Jordan wearing questionable outfits. The simple existence of the Shaq Fu video game is hipster because you couldn’t come up with a weirder, more ironic joke if you tried. Sneakers with little pumps on them are hipster as hell, at least in hindsight, and basically everything about Dennis Rodman generally (seriously, the dude has decided to become friends with Kim Jong Un) and Dennis Rodman’s hair in particular just doesn’t make any sense unless you see it as some sort of ironic joke.

Hockey, on the other hand, has deep hipster roots. From its ties to Canada (beloved by hipsters who threaten to move there when their disenchantment with the US rises) to its long relationship with mustaches and the mullet (sometimes called “hockey hair”), ice hockey has always worn the metaphorical skinny jeans of the sporting world. Hockey has a weirdly hipster heritage as a fixture of American culture, too.

In the 1980s, basketball culture was so racist that it didn’t seem at all weird to call Larry Bird “the Great White Hope” (ugh), while hockey was engaged in a protracted battle with the Soviet Union for the soul of the sporting world following the “Miracle on Ice.” I’m pretty sure anyone who had to pick between those competing 1980s legacies would take smashing communism over a simmering race war. Even if the (dark) cultural legacy of 1980s basketball is probably more culturally relevant in terms of what it says about us as a nation, both as to where we come from and where we’re going (hopefully, as far away from the culture of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry as possible), the Cold War aspect of ice hockey sounds a quirkier, more hipster note. Thus, your assessment is probably correct, notwithstanding numerous exceptions to the rule. Now, I don’t mean to say one sport is better than the other. But on balance, hockey is probably the more hipster sport, so make of that what you will.

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