Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | March 27, 2013

Ancient Basketball

2013 NCAA Bracket

2013 NCAA Bracket

The 2013 NCAA Menj’s Basketball Tournament is in full swing. The first two rounds of March Madness were completed this past weekend, and the field of 64 teams has been reduced to the Sweet Sixteen.

Every year millions of people fill out tournament brackets with their predictions for how the tournament will play out. Basketball Fans submitted over 3 million brackets in the Yahoo! Fantasy Sports Tourney Pick’Em, but no one successfully picked all 16 teams still alive in the 2013 tournament. See Busted Brackets for details.

ESPN, CBS Sports, and Fox Sports also run bracket tourneys with millions of brackets for each.

According to the Yahoo Overall Leaders list, one bracket got 42 correct of the 48 possible picks in the first two rounds. Everybody else made 41 or less correct picks.

Click the image above to see the Yahoo bracket I submitted last week with my guesses for the game results. My bracket is in the 73rd percentile at this point. This means that 72% of the 3,329,637 Yahoo brackets scored lower than mine.

Filling out a bracket adds to the interest of following the tournament. Conflicting emotions arise, however, when you have picked your home team to lose a game. If your home team wins, you’re happy, but it hurts your bracket. But if your home team loses, then your bracket “wins,” even though you’re sad that your home team has been eliminated.

If you’re interested in trying your hand at picking winners, Yahoo offers a free Second Chance Tourney where anyone can start anew from the Sweet Sixteen with a fresh bracket.

Are you one of those fans who has lost your head in March Madness? Here’s a look at an ancient form of Hoops where players actually did lose their heads.

Stone Ring Goal

Stone Hoop Goal
Great Ball Court at Chichén Itzá, Mexico

Ancient Hoops

How would you like to play basketball with a hoop 30 feet above the ground on a court that dwarfs a football field?

What if the hoops were vertical instead of horizontal?

Thousands of years ago, that’s what basketball was like in Mexico and Central America. Versions of the ancient game have been played on mesoamerican ball courts since at least 1600 BC. It’s the world’s oldest continuously played sport using a rubber ball.

The modern variation, called ulama, descended from the Aztec version. Tournaments of the ancient past were undoubtedly followed just as madly as those of today.

The rules of the ancient game aren’t known except for inferences from existing ball courts, carvings, artwork, figurines, and Spanish documents. Modern ulama or hipball is a kind of netless volleyball where the ball is played off the hips across a center line.

Mayans introduced the vertical stone hoops to the game they called Pok-Ta-Pok. They played it at least as far back as 1000 BC. Popol Vuh, the Mayas book of wisdom and prophecies, describes the game as part of a ritual ceremony.

In the 1500’s Spaniards witnessed Aztecs playing the game on courts with stone hoops and bouncing the ball off hips, thighs, and forearms. Players wore heavy pads to protect these body parts and sometimes used rackets, bats, or hand stones to strike the ball. Teams kept the ball in play without touching it with their hands and put the ball through the stone hoop to score.

Archaeologists have found game balls dated to 1600 BC. The solid rubber game ball varied in size but could weigh up to 9 lbs. Balls ranged from slightly larger than a softball for hand stone and stickball variations to slightly larger than a basketball for hipball versions.

Putting the ball through the stone hoop was very difficult—much rarer than putting the ball through the hoop in today’s game. The hole diameter appears to be about 2½ feet. To score the 9-lb solid rubber ball through the 30-foot-high stone hoop required phenomenal strength and coordination.

To properly appreciate this feat, imagine trying to heave an 8-lb gallon of milk through a hoop 30 feet above ground!
(Note: Do NOT actually try this. The Bible-Science Guy is not responsible for the consequences if readers try to score on a basketball hoop using a gallon of milk.)

Great Ball Court of Chichén Itzá, Mexico

Great Ball Court at Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, Mexico

Court size varied. The largest is the Great Ball Court of Chichén Itzá, Mexico. It is 230 feet wide and 550 feet long. For comparison, this is more than twice the area of an American football field (160 feet by 360 feet). It’s more than 25 times the area of a college basketball court (50 feet by 94 feet). Click the picture to see the people on the field to appreciate the scale of the Great Ball Court.

The walls on the long sides at Chichén Itzá were 39 feet high. Stone hoops in the middle of each side wall are 30 feet high and oriented vertically. That’s three times the height of today’s 10-foot-high horizontal hoops. The stone hoops are carved with intertwining serpents visible in the top picture.

Almost 1500 ball courts have been found scattered through Mexico and Central America. To see many ball court images, click Mesoamerican Ball Courts.

The Mayan “End of the World” prophecy that garnered so much attention in recent years involved the Great Ball Court of Chichén Itzá. According to some reports, the prophecy was that the great warrior serpent Kukulkán would emerge from beneath the playing field to end the world on December 21, 2012. To the best of my knowledge, no serpent emerged on December 21, 2012, and the world did not end.

The return of Jesus Christ has no date attached to its prophecy, but it’s a sure thing. Jesus prophesied repeatedly that He would be crucified and raised from the dead the third day (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:62-64; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:6-8; 24:46). Since this prophecy was fulfilled, we can have confidence that the Second Coming prophecy will also come true (Acts 1:10-11).

The ancient stone hoop game often featured human sacrifice, according to wall carvings. The captain of the losing team submitted himself to the winning captain for decapitation. This provided an incentive for winning that is absent from the modern game of basketball.

Two thousand years ago the God-Man Jesus of Nazareth presented Himself voluntarily as a sacrifice—He was crucified to atone for man’s sin. Many religions throughout human history have featured types of human sacrifice. But a crucial difference between Christianity and other human-sacrificing religions is that Jesus was a one-time sacrifice, a holy sacrifice that was effective and sufficient for all His people (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10; 1 Peter 3:18). There is no need for any other human sacrifice. Losing basketball teams need not fear decapitation.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Wednesday March 27, 2013 A.D.

And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

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