- ball [bawl]
1. a spherical or approximately spherical body or shape; sphere.
2. a round or roundish body, of various sizes and materials, either hollow or solid, for use in games.
No, the author of this article is not delusional; he is merely a sports freak extraordinaire. While those who don't give a hoot about sports (how many are there, like 12?) will strongly disagree, the one invention which beats out all others for me is simply the round object that we all love to toss, hit, throw (etc.) around.
Sure you can argue for the merits of the other proclaimed "greatest inventions," i.e. the wheel and the Internet. But let's see how this spherical bundle of joy known as the ball beats out even those two for top honors.
Imagine Michael Jordan trying to shoot a three wheelie!
National Basket-Wheel Association would not have had anywhere near as many followers as the NBA we now know, would it? In any case, the wheel is over-rated as it is. So it helps you get around from one place to the other. But if you're traveling longer distances or over water, what do you do? You use an airplane, helicopter, or a boat, or even a hoverboard if you're Marty McFly. So the wheel is not the only means of transportation...unless you still live in the 19th century.
Now in the world of sports, there are no two ways about it. If you don't have a game ball, there is no game. Plain and simple. So in order to achieve the reason (playing sports) for its (ball) invention, its presence is always required. You can't have an imaginary ball or play with a square. But if you want to be transported anywhere in this day and age, the wheel is not the only option available to you.
And the global recession didn't even dent the likes of Nike or Adidas. But boy. Are those automobile guys feeling the crunch or what? The NBA Finals, UEFA Champions League, etc. still continue to thrive. Heck, Real Madrid just forked out nearly US$90 million for a guy named Kaka who can kick around a...ball.
In effect, if you're in any field that has something to do with a ball and sports, there is no recession unless the world around you is going to war. But then, everybody's screwed, no matter the field or industry.
Sure there's no ball-mail, but the health reason wins out hands down
Have you ever heard anyone saying that playing sports is bad for your health? In fact, children are encouraged to step outdoors from an early age in order to inculcate a healthy lifestyle. It is this very same Internet addiction that is causing many of the younger generation's health-related problems—obesity and lethargy to name a few.
If you love watching a particular sport, then there's every reason to love playing it as well. It's beside the point if you play it like a loser, but hey, you still play and do your bit to contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
There won't be any calories burning while you're stuck in front of the computer screen. In fact, you'll probably be putting on a few ounces here or there, as you chug down that bottle of Coke to wash down the cheese-dipped Doritos. At least when you do that while watching the Super Bowl, there's a chance you'll be revved up enough to burn off a few of those calories with a game of touch football in your yard with your buddies. Why? You really want to imitate your favorite receiver's last minute catch or your favorite QB's last minute drive.
On to more serious things: Origins of sport's holy grail—the ball
Although the history of the ball's origins is somewhat murky, ancient Egypt is thought to be the earliest source of any sort of information. Various artifacts from Egyptian tombs, as old as 2500 BCE, provide evidence that football-like games existed in that region and time period. For better bouncing, balls were also made out of catgut (animal sinew) wound into a sphere and wrapped in leather or deerskin. Little is known about the Egyptian ball games. Historians believe that during fertility rites in ancient Egypt, balls of seeds wrapped in colorful cloth were booted across the fields.
Then around 2000 BCE, the Greeks developed a kicking/throwing game called Episkyros. The photo for this article from the National Museum of Archeology in Athens shows a Greek athlete balancing a ball on his thigh, supposedly demonstrating a training technique to the boy. This very same image is nowadays featured on the European Cup trophy. The Greek game of Episkyros was later adopted by the Romans, who renamed and transformed it into Harpastum.
Harpastum (meaning "the small ball game") remained popular for 700-800 years and was played with a relatively smaller and harder ball. Harpastum was played by 5-12 players on a rectangular field marked by boundary lines and split by a center line. Each team had to keep the ball in their own half for as long as they could, while their opponents tried to steal it and get it over to their own side.
An important rule of Harpastum stated that only the player with the ball could be tackled. That limitation caused the development of complex passing combinations. The feet were scarcely used in the game of Harpastum, but a striking resemblance to rugby can be noted. Emperor Julius Caesar (who is speculated to have played himself) used Harpastum to maintain the physical fitness of his soldiers and keep them battle ready.
It is also believed that the Romans took Harpastum to the British Isles at the time of their expansion. By the time of their arrival, less-sophisticated kicking games were already present on the British Isles.
The Mayan connection
Some researchers believe that the ball game was invented in the times of the early Mayan civilization. Ball courts were a part of almost every Mayan city. The courts were designed very much like today's soccer fields, with raised stone hoops placed at each end. The Mayans played a game which was very much a cross between soccer and basketball.
Joyous reasons galore
Here are several reasons why the ball is the most important invention in the history of the world: football, soccer, basketball, baseball, cricket, tennis, rugby, squash, table tennis, field hockey, handball, bowling, polo, water polo, golf (just to name a few), or even the simple fun of children enjoying a beach ball or toddlers playing a simple game of catch.
I for one know this. If I didn't have a car (even if I did, I'd have to fork out for gas) or even if I didn't have the Internet (which would deprive me of B/R, but oh well), and I had any kind of game ball to pass the time, I would not go bored for one minute.
Photo from National Museum of Archaeology in Athens