Probabilities & Combinations

06 Oct

Though basketball is considered by many as a secular and modern sport, there are several superstitious practices attached to it. We were able to witness these at a live basketball game last September 29 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Interestingly, it wasn’t just any game; it was the most-anticipated Ateneo-La Salle match.

The coliseum was already filled with people when we went in; it was split into two equal portions: one side with people in shirts of greens, and the other half with those in shades of blue. We climbed upstairs where our tickets would get us in — the very top, very dimly lighted, and very crowded General Admissions area. We situated ourselves in the seats at the blue side since we are, of course, Ateneans — sitting on the green side with our Ateneo apparel on seemed like a terrible idea. Once we were settled, we noticed that the crowd was diverse in terms of age and gender. There were grandparents, middle-aged men, mothers, teenagers, and young kids. We also took note of the fact that there were many families who watched together — indicating that this event transcended generations.

When the game started, we were captivated by the audience — everyone stood up and began cheering for the teams they’re rooting for. Some raised their fists in the air, clapped nonstop and screamed wildly. We couldn’t help but be amazed at the passion and conviction of the Ateneans and La Sallians as they showed their support. The drum varsity for both teams also looked like they were pouring out their hearts in every beat. Since it was our first time to watch a UAAP basketball game, we just mumbled the cheers for Ateneo, and so everyone else on our side Fablioh-ed better than us.

As we focused our attention on the players taking centerstage, we perceived basketball as a game of combinations and probabilities. The coach picks five of his pieces for a quarter game — he knows each players’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as the team dynamics. In this particular game, La Salle’s coach made a mistake of choosing his pieces. Ravena had a three-pointer and several free throws during the second half of the game due to fouls made by Webb. A turnover, also by Webb, gave Ateneo the chance to score — maybe if someone like Andrada was utilized, the game could have ended in favor of La Salle. But it was undeniably a clash of equals, and the results are definitely hard to predict.

Despite Ravena’s exceptional skills and his awareness of it, we saw him making the sign of the cross more than twice. It seems as if he wanted some kind of assurance over the head-to-head game. Apart from this, we also saw post-shooting poses from Buenafe, Teng and others — thumping their chests with their fists, holding their index fingers up, etc. They assert themselves — they knew that their shots were hard to make yet they made it, and they’re making sure you knew that too. This is also to achieve comfort in the basketball ring; self-assertion consequently increases confidence and the mind is no longer clouded with anxiety, and so instead of seeing limits in the game, the players see possibilities.

Is the confidence of the players also influenced by the loudness of the cheering crowds? We do not know. Perhaps they become complacent and inattentive if the cheers for them are louder. Perhaps they thrive on the tension and the pressure of a less clamorous but more expectant crowd. Perhaps they do not notice the crowds at all, focusing on the game instead. Whatever crowd the players prefer, it doesn’t make much of a difference from what we have seen. We observed that the La Salle crowd cheered with intensity and consistency, while the Ateneo crowd cheered erratically, overpowering La Salle for the first time, when the Eagles dominated the game during the last half. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that La Salle was leading the game in the first three quarters — there was even a time when they had an 11-point lead, with Ateneo barely keeping up — but then Ravena exploded with superb gameplay in the final quarter.

However, it could be subject to another interpretation. Among the Ateneo crowd, shirts printed with the names of their school players seem to be popular. We saw a couple of Ravena, Slaughter and Elorde shirts in the crowd. “I used to wear shirts for who I predict will dominate the game,” a fan of the Eagles said as we interviewed him. “Last year, I wore a Slaughter shirt for an Ateneo-La Salle game and he put up more than twenty points and more than ten rebounds.” The people are confident of the skills of their favorite players and their team. In addition, the fact that Ateneo won the last championship (same roster of players as now), without a tough rival team to challenge them, greatly added to this quiet confidence.

One thing that is greatly interesting about the fan’s statement above is that it illustrates where we think we stand on the game. We can conclude from his words that he thinks wearing a Slaughter shirt to the game affected Slaughter’s performance. It might sound silly, but it’s not. We also thought that our being in the coliseum jinxed Ateneo’s performance against La Salle — and although we know how illogical and unlikely that is — we honestly felt that way.

When the game was taking a good turn for Ateneo, we saw people dancing, shouting, jumping, pumping their fists up high — as if these actions were outlets for overwhelming emotions. Index fingers raised up for victory — as if saying, “Their victory is our victory.” Only ten people are playing in the court but a whole crowd seems to be thinking they are part of the game too. The paranoia and anxiety they experience while watching the game, faces flushed and painted with victory when a ball goes in — this is always observable in team sports such as baseball and soccer. We impose our wills on the players, making them an extension of ourselves, and so when they win, we win too.

Our La Salle-Ateneo games illustrates perfectly the concept of collective identity. Why do we have cheers that are undecipherable to anyone but us? Why do the littlest details like drum patterns used when a rebound shot is being taken by the opposing team matter? As Turner et al have noted,

“the collective self-concept is determined by assimilation to the prototypic representation of the in-group, with self-worth derived from the status of the in-group in intergroup comparisons.”¹

Regardless of our individual differences, we become a self, and so we assert our distinct identity through the cheers distinct to us. Moreover, as we have noted before, through our in-group, we feel as if it is imperative to win because our self-worth as individuals are tied to it.

This gives as a clue as to why people like coming to the games so much, and why rituals arise from it. According to George Gmelch in his article Baseball Magic, rituals are “prescribed behaviors in which there is no empirical connection between the means and the desired end.” Since self-worth is closely attached to the game, people sometimes resort to irrational ways to achieve the outcomes they favor. Thinking it would somehow boost the team’s chances of winning, some people in the audience wear lucky shirts or shout more loudly. As for the players, they make the sign of the cross or do unusual hand signs. From this, we could see the human desire to attribute a cause to every circumstance, as well as the longing for control and clarity in unpredictable situations.

 At the end of the game, it’s hard to prove whether the rituals really contributed anything to the game or increased the probability of winning. One thing is sure though: it helped people gain their confidence in an unpredictable head-to-head match between Ateneo and La Salle.


¹Turner, J. C, Hogg, M., Oakes, P., Reicher, S., & Wetherell, M. (1987).
Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory. Oxford,
England: Basil Black well.


By Flora Niña Rey and Nina Viktoria Ojerio

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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Uncategorized


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