In the 1970s, the world of International Football (Soccer) was turned upside down by the groundbreaking play of Johan Cruyff and the Dutch National Team. The Netherlands, a tiny speck of a country, went from a backwater, semi-pro non-entity in global football to a powerhouse, world beating football machine by embracing a philosophical football revolution known as Total Football.
Total Football was a tactical system in which any outfield player (everyone but the goalie) was free to take on any position on the field. If a “defender” has the ball in a position to attack, instead being restrained by their position as “defender” they were now free to attack at will knowing that another teammate would simply replace his previous defense position as he advanced forward. In short, positions were interchangeable. You had ten players who could play anywhere on the field at any time.
Total Football worked brilliantly, taking the 1974 Dutch Team all the way to the World Cup Final. And then it stopped working. Why? Because it’s really really hard to find 10 great players who possess the skills necessary to play anywhere and everywhere on the field. A handful maybe but unless you have all ten it can’t work.
But what if you only needed five?
Soccer and American Football may be distant cousins who were both born from Rugby but in today’s world soccer and basketball are the closest parallel sports we have. They are both free flowing, fast paced games dictated in the modern era by the idea of controlling space. Freedom of movement comes from proper spacing. Players need to be in the correct spots at the correct times or your entire game plan goes to pieces.
The Dutch revolutionized the world of Football by rethinking how the game could be played. The same thing is happening in today’s NBA, or so everyone says. But is it really????
In the on going series Reinventing the NBA Hi-Top will be taking a look at a variety ways in which basketball IS and is NOT evolving right before our eyes but more importantly we will be offering some ideas that could truly revolutionize basketball if only we had our very own hardcourt version of Johan Cruyff.
Or maybe we already do? Stay tuned to Reinventing the NBA to find out.
Up Next – Do We Still Need Positions in Basketball or Should They Just Be Renamed?