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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published online by De Gruyter Mouton August 15, 2022

The new basketball body: an analysis of corporeity in modern NBA basketball

Yair Tamayo
From the journal Semiotica


The average weight and height of National Basketball League (NBA) players is decreasing year by year (Brady, Benedict. 2017. Maybe we should call it skinny-ball: Weight vs. height in the NBA. Harvard Sports Analysis Collective. (accessed 30 September 2021); Curcic, Dimitrije. 2021. 70 years of height evolution in the NBA [4,504 players analyzed]. RunRepeat (accessed 30 September 2021)). The trend in basketball is to privilege the tallest and strongest. If so, then to what does the body modification of NBA players respond? Will these changes reformulate the corporeity of what is understood as an NBA player? This text seeks, from the postulates of Jacques Fontanille (2008 [2004]. Soma y sema: Figuras semióticas del cuerpo [Soma and sema: Semiotic figures of the body]. Peru: Fondo Editorial Universitario de Lima) and José Finol (2015. The corposphere: Anthropo-semiotics of the cartographies of the body [La corposfera: antropo-semiótica de las cartografías del cuerpo]. Ecuador: CIESPAL), to point out that the process of body modification arose both from the introduction of a new rule (three-point shot) and the recognition to new corporealities. From data regarding players’ corporeality, shooting tendency and a body modification scheme, a new corporeality of the NBA player is proposed, one that is no longer determined entirely by height.

1 Introduction

The body in the National Basketball League (NBA) is an object of analysis that has traditionally been explored by scientific fields focused on its healing or preservation, such as medicine or physiotherapy. Today, the influence of data analytics and data science has pushed the boundaries of how teams extract information from their players; it is no longer just points, rebounds, and assists that are relevant. There are trend and probability measurements to design the best lineup and strategy to reach more wins (Tsai 2017) or accolades (Li 2019). The body of the players has been the subject of analyses such as those of Benedict Brady (2017) and Dimitrije Curcic (2021), who propose the existence of a physical modification experienced by players in this league in recent years.

The limitation of both analyses is that they remain in this pattern of quantitative only measurements, without delving into the symbolic implications that this body modification brings to the players themselves, those who aspire to reach that league and the fans who follow their favorite players. Thus, this research proposes, through a semiotic analysis, to complement these visions and understand the representation of the corporeality of NBA basketball players. We start from the theoretical and methodological framework developed by semioticians José Enrique Finol (2015) and Jacques Fontanille (2008 [2004]), whose visions not only allow us to analyze corporeity, but also the regimes of change through which this modification becomes significant.

We will seek to answer: what elements have caused the body modification of NBA players, as well as what are the symbolic implications of the modification of the corporeity of NBA players? It is considered that this body modification arises from two processes: the establishment of the three-point line in 1979 and the tendencies of the NBA to recognize certain corporealities. Therefore, the general hypothesis is that the implementation of the rule that validated the three-pointer, as well as the recognition of specific corporealities, such as those awarded with Most Valuable Player (MVP), Finals Most Valuable Player (FMVP) and Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY), have transformed the corporeality of NBA players.

Information to indicate both the overall body modification of NBA players and the increase in three-point shooting was obtained from the database. For their part, the information for the MVP, FMVP, and DPOY was obtained from the site. In order to better analyze the process itself, we will use a scheme of body modification based on Fontanille’s (2008 [2004]) postulates.

This exercise will allow not only to raise the pointed out bodily modification of NBA players, but also the existence of a modification in corporeity, that is, with symbolic implications. This will allow us to point out that reforming rules and recognizing certain corporealities not only have an impact within the specific community of meaning, in this case the NBA, but that its potentiality is the transformation of the sign “basketball player body.”

The present research is divided into three sections. First, the relevance of an analysis that considers corporeity together with corporeality and, in this way, conceives bodily modifications as something that extends beyond particular and individual variations will be discussed. Subsequently, data will be presented both on the bodily modification and on the phenomena that are considered to have influenced this modification, the introduction of the three-point line and the recognition of specific corporealities. Finally, a new reading of the body modification scheme based on Fontanille’s (2008 [2004]) regimes of change and the semiotic implications that body modifications have had on the praxeological conception of basketball as well as on the referents of the prototypical player will be presented.

2 Corporeality and semiosis

The human body is, directly or indirectly, one of the oldest objects of study. As mentioned, the medical sciences have had preeminence over its study. From a different approach, the arts have also given it special attention, they have recognized it as something valuable to be explored. From the social sciences, except for anthropology, it is not easy to find research whose central theme is the body. Whether the subject is considered as part of a collectivity, or the focus is on analyzing its decision making. Both, however, are disembodied proposals. Nevertheless, the body is an inexhaustible entity whose scope affects, in one way or another, all significant phenomena generated by human beings.

From semiotic theory, in particular the proposal of Ferdinand de Saussure, Jacques Fontanille (2008 [2004]) identifies that it is not an approach that gives its place to the body. Its constitutive relation of the sign is a cognitive operation extracted from all corporeality. It is in this theoretical gap that his proposal of “return of the body” (Fontanille 2008 [2004]) is pertinent. It is an effort to move away from disembodied solutions and to analyze corporeality from a phenomenal vision. The semiotics of the body thus extends the conceptions that pigeonhole it as a phenomenon that can be analyzed from its own structure. The semiotization of the body, in this way, will allow us to explain bodily meanings in other domains of signification (Sonesson 1992).

So far, two terms have been used to refer to the body: corporeality and corporeity. The former refers to the quality of the body; that is, the material substrate that makes semiosis possible. Corporeity, on the other hand, is understood as the construction that is made from the body with respect to itself and the social imaginaries in which it exists (Finol 2015). Thus, the present analysis seeks not only to consider the corporeality of NBA players; that has already been addressed from the data analyses. It seeks to reach corporeity, not to remain in the materiality but to reach the meaningful construction of the body in this league.

The study of corporeality has limitations inherent to the confines of the studies on which it is based. For example, Curcic (2021) shows trends in how, on average, the height and weight of NBA players has decreased over the last few decades. The scope, however, is merely descriptive. From corporeity, a semiotic analysis allows us to understand the body as an object modified and modifying of its environment. Corporeal signification is inseparable from its relations, in the author’s words, from its corposphere (Finol 2015). In this corposphere are not only the morphologies and body languages, but also the set of contextual dynamic relationships that give it validity and allow the construction of corporeity.

Among the objectives of this text is not only to give an outline of the corporeity of NBA basketball players, but how bodily modification has transcended their corporeity. But, before getting to this, it must understand how the existence of both bodily modifications and corporeity are feasible. This will be achieved from the conception of the acting body proposed by Jacques Fontanille (2008 [2004]), where the body is not only materiality but also impulse, tension and change.

2.1 Limits and boundaries between corporeality and corporeity

Fontanille (2008 [2004]) points out that the body is constructed from two instances. The first is the physical composition of the body, referred to as Me-flesh. This component is distinguished for being the center of reference of any semiotic possibility, that is, it is the physical part that “resists or collaborates with the transforming action of the states of things” (Fontanille 2008 [2004]: 33). By conceptualizing it as this center, the Me-flesh and its condition of pure sensibility functions as the sensorimotor[1] nucleus that articulates the exterior, that is, the non-body, and thus makes any meaningful experience possible.

This text does not seek the identification of individual corporealities, but of interaction between them. Thus, it is pertinent to consider the establishment of limits, that is, physical discontinuities that will allow, via opposition, to identify the singularity of corporeality (Finol 2015). For Finol (2015), limits are demarcations of the signifying continuum that at the same time pose a contact and, therefore, allow identifying both differences and approaches. The identification of limits, although it may remain in the corporeality, also raises the possibility of contact between these and, thus, move towards their potential modification.

The second instance that composes the acting body and that is necessary for the construction of bodily semiosis is the body itself. Unlike the Me-flesh, it is not a physical instance of sensory articulation. In the Self-body, the internal and external stimuli coming from the Me are processed, hence its character of reference point, and become activities where discursive enunciation and identity construction take place (Fontanille 2008 [2004]). The Me, by its composition, is always susceptible to the displacement of its state: the modification of bodily matter by the influence of time, to give an example, is undeniable. The Self is the “memory of the accumulated traces” of the material system that represents the Me (Fontanille 2008 [2004]: 39). This implies that the Self represents both the past and the becoming of the actor’s body; it is the accumulation of past and present sensory experiences of the Me.

The Self is not a unitary instance, its construction is given from two configurations of its selfhood for the construction of the identity of the acting body. The first one understands it as “an identity that refers to what is the same, to what is similar to itself, the Self-idem, while the other one is the one that indicates an identity that refers to the otherness of the self, to the other that would be included there, to that which itself (Self-ipse) points to with a demonstrative and as a deictic answer to the question who?” (Ruiz 2019: 99).

The Self-ipse proposes a direction, a “sight” (Fontanille 2008 [2004]). Its objective is the progressive construction of identity from transitory elements where the acting body recognizes the otherness. Thus, the corporeity not only recognizes its inner part, but also the exteriority that influences it and provides with elements to build itself in a certain direction. For its part, the Self-idem is an operator of captures, that is, it is constructed through repetition and similarity of the guidelines provided by the Self-ipse. It is the instance that supports the volatility of both the displacements of the Me and the teleological construction of the Self-ipse. The Self-idem, therefore, poses conditions of continuity and homogeneity (Ruiz 2019).

As well as the limits with the Me, Finol (2015) proposes a mechanism that allows identities derived from the Self to come into contact with each other: borders. These, unlike the limits, propose to differentiate in cultural and not physical terms. They do not help, therefore, to the recognition of the non-body, but of the otherness in cultural terms. The main characteristic, Finol (2015) highlights, is that this identity approach facilitates the creation of meeting points over distancing. It is an instance of transition between identities.

Complementing the Me with the Self allows us to move from analyses where corporeality is the limit of the evaluations. The following section will highlight how the combination of the variables raised as the origin of the bodily modification, that is, the rule that formalized the three-point line and the granting of recognitions, stand as the construction of the Self, mainly the Self-ipse, and thus structure the “sight” on which the players base their corporealities.

2.2 Motricity and praxeology

The relevance of moving from corporeality to corporeity was established to consider the semiotic scope of the body modification of NBA players. However, how can this modification be grasped? And, above all, how to understand the procedure of metamorphosis from corporeality to corporeity?

One of the minimum considerations that should be pointed out is that when analyzing corporeality and corporeity we are not starting from static conceptions; namely, we are not examining images but the development of the players in their exercise, in movement. It is in motricity, therefore, where the mechanism through which their bodily identity is configured. This vision coincides with Fontanille (2008 [2004]) who for the interrelation between Me and Self points out that the “act will then be the result of the correlation (convergent or divergent) between the pressures exerted on the Me-flesh (of sensorimotor type) and the pressures exerted on the Self-body itself, to remain the same, to become and to appropriate, and so on” (Fontanille 2008 [2004]: 51). That is to say, the impulses of the components pose a balance that will define the identity and performance of the actor.

Motor activity, therefore, structures the construction of bodily identity and the transitions from Me to Self, and by this validate its modification. However, we are talking about corporeity and, therefore, it is not about isolated and individual exercises. This is how this research seeks the identification of motor patterns within stable structures determined by a particular game: basketball. This detection mission is understood by Pierre Parlebas (2016) as praxeology, where the effort is to find motor configurations within the variability of behaviors.

In our case, the praxeological effort will serve to identify the patterns within a specific ludomotricity, i.e., basketball. The choice of the variables that explain the phenomenon we seek to analyze are based on the identification and modification of behaviors: prior to this rule, the tallest players (centers or pivots, in basketball argot) received the highest awards such as the MVP. The introduction of the three-point line gave smaller players (guards) the opportunity to have specific weapons to stand out and, thus, compete for the top awards. The following section will delve into the changes resulting from both variables.

2.3 Body transformation

How to identify the process of both bodily modification and corporeality? Based on the elements of the acting body, Fontanille (2008 [2004]) designed a schema to propose the tensions that exist between the contact zones of these three instances (Figure 1). His proposal will be described and, in the fourth section, a scheme based on it will be proposed, but with relevant modifications to complement the bodily transformation procedure.

Figure 1: 
Zones of tension between Me and Self. Source: Own elaboration based on Fontanille (2008 [2004]).

Figure 1:

Zones of tension between Me and Self. Source: Own elaboration based on Fontanille (2008 [2004]).

Regarding the zones near the intersection will be omitted because the weakest valences are located there, where there is harmony between the three fields. On the contrary, the counterpoint of these axes represents a different harmony: the tensions exist in equilibrium without any of them controlling the other.

The combination between the Me-flesh and the Self-idem manifests itself through obsessive and compulsive behavior, since the repetitive impulse of the latter gives clear guidelines to the Me and, in this way, does not easily allow innovation. The encounter between Me-flesh and Self-ipse proposes to detach corporeity from the repetition posed by the Self-idem and gives rise to a new form of action, such as rapture. The latter, the encounter between the Selves, manifests itself through eccentricity and originality by combining repetition with a new model to follow (Fontanille 2008 [2004]).

The rest of the axes exemplify the potential variability, by suggesting that it is possible to find oneself in a space where the tensions of the Me are privileged and then change to one of the Selves. It is here where the struggle of forces occurs to control the impulses that move the actor’s body. We do not seek to enter the specificity of each possibility; rather, it is relevant to emphasize the nuances that distinguish these relationships.

Domination zones of the Me represent the schemes of emergence (Fontanille 2008 [2004]). Non-programmed or failed acts have their origin and thus the actant has inventive freedom, to mark his singularity, to actualize the prevailing bodily memory. The domination of the Self-idem is characterized by neutralizing the individualizing and teleological impulses of its counterparts and reaches a bodily programming where internalized roles give a restrictive specialization to the body (Fontanille 2008 [2004]). Finally, the zone where the Self-ipse highlights the actant’s construction in function of a model or goal; this zone is necessary for body modification, since from it emerge the new guidelines that would modify the Me and would propose what the Self-idem should perform (Fontanille 2008 [2004]).

This theoretical review has made it possible to justify the relevance of moving from an analysis of corporeality to one of corporeity. Likewise, limits, boundaries and a proposed scheme to observe both the contact of corporeities and their modification have been established. In this way, it will be possible to elucidate the impact of the three-point rule and the recognition of corporealities have had and how they have led to the bodily transformation of NBA players.

3 Corporealities in the NBA

This section will present information on both the phenomenon that we seek to explain, the body modification of NBA players, and on the two elements that are considered relevant to its explanation, namely, the three-point line rule and the corporeality of those who have been recognized with the NBA’s main awards (MVP, FMVP and DPOY).

3.1 Corporeality of NBA players

In his article “Maybe we should call it skinny-ball: Weight versus height in the NBA,” Benedict Brady (2017) points out a trend among NBA players: height and weight are shrinking. Basketball is a sport where height presents a significant advantage in performing any action both defensively and offensively. It is intriguing, therefore, a trend contrary to what stands out as functional. What should be noted is that this research concurs with Brady’s proposal.

In this research, an analysis of data extracted from the portal, which is a repository of all the information generated about this league, was carried out. This site was chosen not only because it is free to access, but also because it is managed and operated by mathematical experts who are obsessed with both the reliability and the operability of their data.

For this study, data from the seventy-one seasons were analyzed, for which information is available regarding the average height and weight of all players. From the information extracted, R software was used for a better visualization of the data. Thus, Figures 2 and 3 were obtained.

Figure 2: 
Average height.

Figure 2:

Average height.

Figure 3: 
 Average weight. Source: Own elaboration with information from

Figure 3:

Average weight. Source: Own elaboration with information from

Two trends can be observed. On the stature side, from the creation of the league until the 1980s there was a steady growth. It peaked in the second half of that decade. In the following years there was variability without a clear upward or downward path. The highest peak for the league was in the first half of the 2000s. Since then, although not sustained, there has been a considerable decrease, comparable to the first five years of the 1980s. Weight, on the other hand, did not experience a similar increase: it stabilized between the 1960s and the 1980s, when it began a rise that was halted until the first decade of the 2000s. From this point on, as with height, there was a decline.

Both figures present a common pattern: the average weight and height in the NBA has been declining from the year 2010 onwards. The construction of the body prior to this trend is dominated by height: logical in a sport that has clear advantages for having this characteristic. The proximity to the hoop makes it easier to put the ball in the basket and thus score points, while on the defensive side it makes it easier to put pressure on the opponent and prevent him from scoring easily. Even with these conditions, height and weight have decreased. In the following section, we will go deeper into the reasons why this tendency is considered to exist.

3.2 Three-point line and acknowledgments

The rule that created the three-point line was implemented in 1979. Prior to this, the NBA was dominated by players whose position was center; that is, those with a tendency toward greater height and weight. George Mikan, Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain are some of the names that stand out for their impact both in terms of accolades, championships and influence on how the game of basketball evolved after their eras. In fact, the first on that list, as commissioner of the American Basketball Association (ABA), was the one who first implemented that line, which would later be taken up by the NBA after the merger of the two associations.

The impact following the implementation of this rule was immediate. Alex Hannum, coach at the time, noted that “no other rule made the game more open and fun” (Goldsberry 2019: 197). Previously, it was uncommon for long distance shots to be attempted. Hence the dominance of taller players. It was after this new line that the game became more balanced and those who were not of privileged stature had more opportunities to compete.

As well as the height and weight of the players in general, the data to measure the increase of the three-point line were extracted from the portal. Information has been available since the introduction of the rule. Therefore, instead of seventy-one seasons, there were forty-two. As in the past, R software facilitated the visualization (Figure 4).

Figure 4: 
Percentage of three-point shooting.

Figure 4:

Percentage of three-point shooting.

Figure 4 represents the percentage of shots made; the upper line represents two-point shots while the lower line represents three-point shots. A clear trend can be observed: over the years the proportion of three-point shots has increased to the decrease in two-point shots. In Figure 5, this result is accentuated: despite being a less effective[2] shot, the proportion of attempts of both shots is surprisingly close.

Figure 5: 
Three-point shot attempts. Source: Own elaboration with information from

Figure 5:

Three-point shot attempts. Source: Own elaboration with information from

The NBA has been giving awards to outstanding players since its inception. The first award is the Most Valuable Player, which has existed since the first season and is given, as its name indicates, to the most outstanding player, only considering the regular season. The Defensive Player of the Year has been awarded since 1983 and is considered to the player with the best impact on his team’s defense. Finally, the Finals Most Valuable Player, as the counterpart of the MVP, has been awarded since 1969 to the player with the greatest impact in helping his team win the championship.

Unlike the previous statistics, this information was not obtained from the same site. These data were obtained from the RealGM site, which compiles general information about the league, with the characteristic that they provide height and weight information for the three selected awards. Like Basketball Reference, it is a free site. The following information is about the averages for each 10 years, which allows us to observe trends and not the variability that would exist on a case-by-case basis. Again, R software facilitated the plotting (Figures 6 and 7).

Figure 6: 
Height of winning players.

Figure 6:

Height of winning players.

Figure 7: 
Weight of winning players. Source: Own elaboration with information from

Figure 7:

Weight of winning players. Source: Own elaboration with information from

Certain elements can be highlighted after processing the data. The height and weight of the MVP presented an ascending tendency since its beginning, until the decade of the seventies where it had a sustained fall until the second decade of the two thousand years. A bodily modification of the recipients of this recognition is observed from the rule change under analysis. That is to say, since 1980, which was the first season in which the three-point line was introduced, of the twenty-five MVPs only one (Bob Cousy) had a perimeter position, characterized by shorter players. The rest occupied the center or power forward positions, both of which tended to have a large stature. Subsequently, from 1981 to date, only eight of these two positions have received this recognition.

This trend, however, is not present in the FMVP. It is noteworthy, however, that on average they have the shortest average height of the three awards. The difference between the DPOY and the other two awards is that players with greater height are rewarded, which coincides with the advantages that this physical quality provides to hinder the opponent.

The data presented allowed not only to show the bodily modification experienced by NBA players, but also trends that could provide hypotheses to understand how this modification originated. In the following section we will delve into the mechanism by which this transformation could be reached, as well as argue how the two explanations arose from corporeity and not corporeality.

4 Process of body and motor modification

The body modification that has occurred in NBA players derives from the two variables described above, i.e., from the introduction of the three-point line, as well as the recognition of players with physical characteristics corresponding to those who use the advantage granted by the new rule. However, the process of body modification is a relevant phenomenon to analyze, since both variables direct this modification towards a scenario different from the one originally stipulated by Fontanille (2008 [2004]) for the existence of a body transformation. We will seek to explain this process, as well as the relationship between the variables with the phenomenon under analysis.

Sports are, as Parlebas and Elloumi (2009: 58) point out, ultra-institutionalized games, that is, they present “socio-economic mechanisms of production and consumption (high industrial technology) that contribute to normalize nature in order to continuously achieve good results.” In bodily terms, this standardization poses internal and external limits where the exchange between bodies standardizes motor skills and thus obtains a certain corporeality and corporeity.

This means that in order to analyze the body in a sport such as basketball, a praxiological exercise is necessary to identify the most fruitful motor constants for, in this case, winning a game or a championship. The restrictions imposed by the game itself favor some bodies over others. In the case of basketball, taller players have historically benefited from easier access to the basket. For example, among the players with the most championships and awards in the history of the league are Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with a height of 2.16 and 2.18 m, respectively. Both are found in the 1960s, in the case of Chamberlain, and 1970s, for Abdul-Jabbar. This is not surprising: if you look at the figures in the previous section, you can see that the average player could not compete with them and their physical advantage allowed them to excel.

If the success of players like Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar was proven for two decades, how did the body modification that is pointed out come about? To answer this question, it is necessary to go to the body modification scheme raised by Fontanille (2008 [2004]).

Fontanille (2008 [2004]) points out that the deprogramming of a given selection scheme occurs with the weakening of the valence of the Self-idem, that of repetition and concentration, and passes to the Me (zone of emergence). Although Fontanille gives glimpses such as the one indicated, he lacks a generalized approach as to how a mechanism of bodily change would be structured. The following scheme makes modifications to the original in order to bring the different moments of the acting body into contact with each other. The scheme proposed by Fontanille lacks guidelines to grasp a possible bodily actualization, so it was decided to modify it to propose points of contact between his concepts and, thus, be able to suggest a way forward (Figure 8).

Figure 8: 
Modification scheme. Source: Prepared by the authors based on the Fontanille (2008 [2004]) scheme.

Figure 8:

Modification scheme. Source: Prepared by the authors based on the Fontanille (2008 [2004]) scheme.

Stable corporeality would be found in the green zone, specifically in the concentration section where motor skills are not in renewal, but where there is a functional stability to develop its objectives. When there is a modifying motivation, Fontanille (2008 [2004]) points out, one moves to the Me, the emergency zone. In our case of analysis, this would indicate that the players modified their corporeality by internal inertia of the game. There is no evidence that this occurred. Then, what motivated the modification and, if so, from what area of the scheme?

It is considered that the bodily deprogramming by the original path would imply that it arose innately; that is, it was not motivated by external elements, but was actualized within the interaction between bodily limits. This was not the case in the analyzed phenomenon: the variables of the three-point rule and the rewarding of specific corporealities stand out to understand a different origin. These changes are not considered as innate but as extracorporeal conditions; that is, they do not arise in the Me but in the Self that comes from otherness. Specifically, it is considered that in the interaction between the Self: the idem from the bodily adequacy to the new rule and the ipse in following the originality of the new models promoted. This process can be observed in the scheme in Figure 9.

Figure 9: 
Proposed modification. Source: Based on the Fontanille (2008 [2004]) scheme.

Figure 9:

Proposed modification. Source: Based on the Fontanille (2008 [2004]) scheme.

This process of modification did not occur simultaneously; it is proposed that it emerged from the Self-ipse and later transited to Self-idem to continue with the pre-established procedure. As mentioned, the 1960s and 1970s were dominated by centers. The eighties presented a first decline in those award winners: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were a small forward and a guard, especially tall by the standards of the position, which no longer corresponded to what was previously recognized. While they started this shift, it is considered that this trend deepened with probably the most recognized basketball player: Michael Jordan.

Jordan’s style of play, which dominated the 1990s, without Chamberlain’s stature and even smaller than Bird and Johnson, exploited other strategies that allowed him his body limits; for example, the pull-up shot. Thus, this player opened the way for others with a similar corporeality to aspire to similar results. Jordan manifested his bodily singularity from a deprogramming of the dominant inertias in the NBA corporeity.

In 1988 he won his first MVP. Before him, only three other players under two meters had won the MVP award. After him, 13 have won such recognition; in the decade from 2010 to 2019 half of the awardees had that height characteristic. It is here that both the existence of a frontier and the Self-ipse can be observed. The construction of frontiers works in a dichotomous way. In the case of the awardees, the relevant boundary that is identified is a corporeal one that is structured from a high/low transition. Jordan crossed this boundary and validated the recognition of those under two meters and its relevance in a sport dominated by height. Short, it should be clarified, by NBA standards and the bodies that were rewarded.

While Jordan cannot be determined as the absolute frontier as it is a multifactorial process, he is considered a turning point that posed the transition between two eras of NBA player corporeality. His corporeity, and not only his corporeality, became the referent of the NBA player. The corporeity is emphasized, because the process that was underway took shape in Jordan, but involved the exponential media growth of the league, globalization, the construction of the body as a brand, and so on. Jordan’s body self-image can be treated as a particular study; in this text it functions as a stepping stone to understanding the general body modification of NBA players.

Jordan opened the door for recognition of other bodies. In the 2001 season, Allen Iverson received the MVP award and became the first guard under two meters to receive the award since Oscar Robertson in the 1964 season. Four years later, another guard named Steve Nash under that same height received the same award and repeated for two seasons. They averaged 1.2 and 1.4 three-pointers made per game. The awards expanded their diversity to recognize excellence, but the relevant change being recognized was not yet determinative.

The next decline in the awards chart occurred in the 2010 years. The key is that in the middle of the decade and for four years in a row guards won the MVP award. The first: Stephen Curry. His three-point shooting average tripled (3.8) that of Nash and Iverson. Curry is considered to be the next corporeity that validated the frontier that Jordan began with the expansion, as can be seen in the figure of three-point attempts, of the Golden State guard’s signature shot. With Curry, the body modification reached the new adequacy and, thus, the process reached the stabilization point where with the new rule and the recognition of this corporeality, it led to the expansion of a body type that did not correspond to the one expressed decades before by Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar. The recognition of the new corporeality, coupled with the trend of smaller stature, created the new corporeity of NBA basketball players: it is not necessary to have outstanding stature and physical strength if you can exploit different tools such as a highly effective three-point shot.

5 Conclusion

Professional sports are not only a business and a source of entertainment, they are also significant social processes. Their development has symbolic implications with potentialities beyond the monetary; their reach is not only measured in the stock market, but in symbols that influence the way in which children and young people decide to exercise and design their bodies.

There is a tendency to analyze the body of players from their productivity: how many points, rebounds, assists they register per game. This is undoubtedly functional to evaluate their effectiveness. However, it is common to overlook what allowed them to reach that production. We do not talk about their family history or whether they come from an unfavorable socioeconomic level. The body of the players is the basic unavoidable tool if we seek to understand the context that produces these results.

The postulates of Jacques Fontanille (2008 [2004]) and José Finol (2015) bring back the importance of corporeality and corporeity to social phenomena and their significance. Understanding that the body is both ours and a social construction allows us to conceptualize not only the states of corporeity but also the scope of its modification. No bodily change is alien to influence and impact on a community of meaning, whether it is a team playing on the weekend or the most watched basketball league in the world.

The present text sought not only to make relevant the transition from corporeality to corporeity, but also to demonstrate how it is possible to grasp a modification of a collective embodiment in a professional sport. It was described how the impact generated by the introduction of a rule permeated the validation and recognition of new corporealities and motricities. The previously exclusive high/low boundaries became a balance that, due to the nature of the sport, was not visible. This modification has shaken the dominant praxeology of NBA basketball, i.e., the movements exploited only by those with an outstanding physical advantage.

Games and sports “represent the theater of passions, desires, dreams, norms and values proper to each culture; they encourage the social relationship, the image of man and woman, the use of technology, the relationship with the environment, the mystical and religious sense that characterize every society” (Parlebas 2016: 48). What does the homogenization of motricities and the bodily hegemony of those who receive recognitions mean? The answer will depend on the objectives sought both as a sport and the enterprise that is the NBA. For some it is about the era of increased technical ability of players, for others basketball “is best when different types of players are able to progress through different types of play” (Goldsberry 2019: 203). The inclusion of new corporeities should always be observed as an evolution in sports.

Corresponding author: Yair Tamayo, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico, E-mail:


To Les, as always. To Julio and Silvana, without their comments and willingness I would not have finished. To Eduardo and Salma, without your assistance this text would have untenable gaps. To Sarah, for her advice.


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Received: 2022-06-20
Accepted: 2022-07-25
Published Online: 2022-08-15

© 2022 the author(s), published by De Gruyter, Berlin/Boston

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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