Jai Alai : The Original Basque Ball

Over the Easter holiday, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the fast-paced sport of jai alai. Stepping into the Orlando Jai Alai Fronton (that's was the arena for the sport is called) was like walking into a sliver of Miami Vice-era Florida with plenty of colorful characters lurking about each with a glimmer of hope for the upcoming match. I posted a few bets, nothing ambitious, but the main draw was to witnesss the game play itself -- to verify why they call it "the fastest game in the world"!

The height of jai alai's popularity ---> the moustachioed 70's

photo courtesy of brooksfile.files.wordpress.com

According to historians, jai alai was originally played bare-handed against the wide and tall church walls in the Basque region of Northern Spain. The game comes to us via Cuba and then Miami and eventually the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. as well as gambling centers in the American West. Now a significant draw for wagerers, it seems that wherever the colonizing Spanish went, jai alai, or any of a handful of other "ball and a wall" games followed.

It's tough to get a true sense of the speed, agility, and coordination required of the players, but this video does a good job illustrating the dimensions of the game and the ever-present element of fear. The fundamentals of the catching and throwing are not that difficult to master; the real challenge is to muster up the 'cojones' to get in front of the speeding 'pelota', to scoop it and whip it, and at an angle that will make it hard to field on the rebound!

The History of Basque Pelota in The Americas - a comprehensive work on the history of jai alai from its origins in Spain by Carmelo Urza of the University of Nevada, Reno.

National Jai Alai Association - the skinny on the sport and its history from the pros in 'los estates'

H2G2 at The Beeb - a decent little "guidebook" write up about modern jai alai for the curious few

Florida Gaming Corp. - what the gamblers have to say about jai alai history

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