The Basketball Steeple

Submitted By: Celer Tambre

basketball steeple

“This is called The Basketball Steeple for the simple reason that it looks like the speaker is holding an invisible basketball between his/her hands. I guess it is the ‘argument gesture’ of modern politicians, but instead of a logical conclusion the invisible basketball embodies likable and ‘strong’ feelings. This may be so because modern politics is concerned with emotional persuasion rather than convincing argumentation.

I’ve been interested in this gesture for some years now, ever since I started noticing low-level politicians and diplomats doing it, and performing it badly. I speculate that this gesture is widely taught to politicians as part of their speech training. It has even made it to popular body language books.But contrary to what Janine Driver claims here, you CAN go wrong with the basketball steeple. It is exactly because it is so widely taught and promoted as a public speaking secret that so many politicians pull a clumsy basketball steeple. The worst case I have seen was in a video clip of a Lithuanian politician speaking at a gay pride event. He was holding the basketball so rigidly that it looked like he was clinging to it with his life. I think one reason it was so bad was because the size of it was that of a real basketball. You’ll notice that the presidential candidates, who have probably had several hours of practice with expert tutors, don’t exactly hold a basketball in their hands. Theirs is more like the size of a gym ball.

And there is also the matter of timing. Pulling out a basketball and holding it for no apparent reason makes it look awkward. The basketball steeple is categorized as a form of illustrator, which means that it should visually demonstrate some aspect of verbal content, to flow with it and give it emphasis. Just like the argument gesture, you can’t just wave it around whenever you feel like it. It’s too bad I don’t have any video material of it being abused, but considering its popularity there are surely many examples like the Lithuanian one out there.”

The Basketball Steeple appears to be something that politicians from any party or ideology can agree on. Thanks again Celer!

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