Informant: “So growing up I played basketball, and my dad was a basketball coach. And basketball was the most important thing in my life. I played basketball- I was like Jack across the street, I played basketball every day. Every year, every day I would be out shooting hoops and what not. I was pretty good, I was a good shooter. But shooters are very superstitious and there was a certain amount of you get hot, and you don’t get hot, right? Where your shooting is off, so you have good nights and you have bad nights. Well, part of that is psychological. So my dad, my dad who was the coach, he had a really nervous stomach. And so he would buy not rolls, but boxes of Rolaids. These white tablets, and he kept them in this brown cardboard box with no writing on it. So the players would notice that Coach Paul had these, so he got the idea that he would tell his players that these were shooting pills that would help you shoot the ball better. And so, it became a big joke, but he used to hand them out before the game to everyone and they were the quote “magical” pills. And everyone knew that they probably weren’t, but we all felt like it was good luck to eat one of Coach Paul’s Rolaids before the game to help our shooting. So I became very superstitious, I always had to have a Rolaid before every game. And my socks, my Pete Maravich socks. Pete Maravich was a great basketball player who died very young. His dad was also a basketball coach, and he wore these grey old army socks. And he was a great player, and he wore these baggy old army socks that he was always wiping his hands on. And uh, so I bought some and I had some baggy grey army socks and I used to wear them because Pete wore them.”
As an athlete, there is a tremendous pressure to do well. While the outcome of the game is largely from the collective or individual effort of the players, there is a psychological necessity to create familiarity and order in your sport so that your mind remains calm and focused during the game. To create a sense of peace, athletes have come up with many different rituals to perform before the event so that their mind becomes free of anxiety and focused on what they need to do. This can be a number of things that vary on the sport or individual, such as taking time to stretch by yourself before running a race or picturing yourself doing well during the game. This kind of homeopathic thinking is also very common in basketball.
The superstitions my informant mentioned are ones that are unique to him, though I have heard of similar rituals in my research such as basketball players having a lucky pair of shoes they always wear for a game. The Rolaid superstition serves as two functions. One, it is a unique tradition that the Arcata High School basketball team shared during the time my informant played that created a sense of community with the players by having this ritual. This sense of community is important with playing in a sport that relies on the collective effort of a team. The second function is that the Rolaids are part of a homeopathic magic that helps the players get into the mind-set that they will succeed. Having a winning attitude is an integral part of performing well in any sport.
The other superstition involving the Pete Maravich socks is also a form of homeopathic magic. The informant believed that by wearing the same kind of socks Pete Maravich wore, he would be able to perform as well as Pete Maravich. Thus creating the same kind of winning attitude that the Rolaid ritual gave to the players. While my informant no longer plays on a basketball team, he has taken his sock superstition with him into his professional life. He once mentioned to me that he has a favorite pair of socks he likes to wear for important business presentations. In this sense he is using the ritual he learned as a basketball player to create a winning attitude in business, which is also integral to successful proposals or negotiations.
My informant was born in 1957 Arcata, California to a high school basketball coach and his wife. After earning his undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of California, Davis, he moved to southern California to obtain his MBA in business from the University of Southern California. He now a partner at Ernst & Young. He lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with his wife and has two children.