Playing with the Playlist: Four Fantastic Basketball Episodes from Non-Sports Podcasts

Everyone has a favorite sports podcast, whether it’s a quick one that breaks down the headlines or an hour-long deep dive into the NBA. You might like yours funny and meme-heavy, or you might like it serious and analytical. But sports pods aren’t the only place to get great stories about basketball.

Some of my favorite hoops stories come from pods that focus on history, design and business—looking at the sport through a different lens than what we’re used to hearing from the usual sports-based publisher.

Here’s a list of episodes to listen to if you want to switch up your playlist.

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Sociology + Hoops: The Big Man Can’t Shoot

Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History

“The basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain had only one flaw: he couldn’t shoot free throws. In 1962, Chamberlain switched to making his foul shots underhanded—and fixed his only weakness. But then he switched back.”

Gladwell talks to Rick Barry, who charted a career average of 90% with only “Granny Shot” free throws, about the costs of being different and the state of underhand shooting in today’s basketball scene. Then, Nobel Prize-winning economist Richard Thaler explain why even the world’s best teams choose a socially acceptable norm over a data-driven decision that doesn’t look cool.

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History + Design + Hoops: The Yin and Yang of Basketball

99% Invisible

“In 1891, a physical education teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts invented the game we would come to know as basketball. In setting the height of the baskets, he inadvertently created a design problem that would not be resolved for decades to come.”

This design podcast out of Oakland looks back at a time when there was neither a slam dunk nor a three-point shot, how the racial divide affected early attitudes towards big men, and the turning points that changed basketball into the game we know today.

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Law + Hoops: Is the NCAA an Illegal Cartel?

Planet Money

“In any other industry, it’s illegal for a group of companies to get together and cap wages. What makes the NCAA different?”

In the Philippines, college players are balling. Dressing in streetwear and luxury brands, putting up down-payments on their first car, traveling abroad with their girlfriends—all thanks to playing bonuses and endorsement deals. In the American NCAA, though, players can’t get paid—and in recent years, they’ve started to sue the league.

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Economics + Hoops: The Starbury

Planet Money

“When Stephon Marbury was eight years old, the Nike Air Jordan sneakers came out. Kids everywhere wanted to fly like Michael Jordan on the basketball court, and they wanted to wear the sneakers with his name on them too. But they were pricey. Stephon couldn’t afford them. Lots of kids couldn’t. For years, he wondered if there was a different way.”

Remember when Alex wished for an affordable athletic line for the average Pinoy? This is the story of an experiment to actually make that happen, and the strange challenges that come with “an athlete [using] his name not to make a shoe more expensive than it needed to be, but to make it as cheap as humanly possible.”

Photos of Ray Parks from Jutt Sulit, Wilt Chamberlain from Sporting News, James Naismith from New York Times, Stephon Marbury and March Madness from Getty Images

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