Times have changed over the last thirty years in the National Basketball Association. Gone are the good ol’ days of the roughhouse Detroit Pistons, the clothesline assaults in the paint, the swinging elbows under the basket, and the overall hooligan style of play that made the NBA something exciting to watch. This was the era of aggressive offensive talents who were greeted with defensive geniuses, clamping down with the ferocity and killer instinct of a lion. To the disappointment of the fan base, these times have been replaced with a version of grade school touch football for the hardcourt, except that grade school touch football is rougher than what happens in the modern day NBA.
For the big men of today, the mid and long-range jumper is a necessity making Joakim Noah a household name, and forcing the memories of Shaquille O’Neal and other dominant centers into obscurity. There are also the players like Kevin Durant, and other young and gun offensive juggernauts, who think that defense is only for squares, and that building the All-Star team is the magic pill for those who have lived a life obscurity in the basement of the standings.
With that said, we have compiled a list of five reasons why the National Basketball Association has become a shell of its former self.
5. Too Many Ticky Tack Fouls
In the immortal words of the late, great Lakers announcer Chick Hearn, there are just too many ticky tack fouls. During the 1990’s, the league brass instituted a grab bag of rule changes that were designed to drastically reduce the defender’s ability to, well, defend. There were so many hand-checking modifications that one needed an abacus to keep count, and the end result was an NBA that would be supposedly more exciting, and with bigger offensive numbers to draw the fans in. However, the only thing that is offensive is that the National Basketball Association has watered down its product and true grit and competitive basketball is purely a moment in nostalgia.
Since 1985, there have been over 25 rule changes involving contact and defense in the NBA. The majority of the modifications have been of the watering down the game type. The Association was letting players know that it was no longer cool to knock a guy coming into the paint; they wanted him to be able to score at will for the all-mighty television ratings. In 1988-89, they added a third referee to the action as a result of the extra workload.
In 1991, they increased penalties and fines for flagrant fouls. In 1993, throwing a punch meant an immediate trip to the showers, and anyone caught leaving the bench for a scrum, including the towel boy, resulted in a slew of fines for the team. 1995 saw the removal of simple hand-checking in the backcourt, and 1998 meant no more forearms available to defend a guy facing the basket. Subsequent years found the addition of even more hand-checking and defensive rules. According to Hall of Famer, and one of the toughest defenders in the history of the league, Gary Payton, today’s NBA is more akin to a video game than a professional basketball league. Gary states, “It’s no defense, it’s just run and gun…There’s too much touch fouls.” Payton adds, “You see these PlayStations, they scoring 50 and 60 with one player, that’s what they want to see on TV and I don’t go with that…Let him be rough. If he got an opportunity to go at you in the offensive end, let me go at him on the defensive end and rough him up. So that’s the way I like basketball and I don’t think it’s like that.”
4. Inside Out
These rule changes demonstrate that the Association is more about the offensive scorer who hasn’t a clue on how to defend, and in reality, he doesn’t need to have a clue. The NBA Brass has decided that it is better to bring in athletic players who slash the lane, and or put the ball in the hoop from distance. This line of thinking has led to more recruitment of the fundamentally unsound, young gun, offensive juggernaut who is right out of his freshman year in college. These are the guys who we may call the SportsCenter Generation; ballers who are offense-minded and are looking for that big, game winning three pointer at the buzzer, and because the Association has removed many of the impediments to their progress defensively speaking, they are free to score at will while the game continues to wallow in defensive mediocrity.
3. No More Legitimate Big Men
In addition to the dilution of the game, someone lost in the desert is more likely to find a mirage than the fan at an NBA contest is to find a legitimate big man center making the days of kicking the ball into a Shaquille O’Neal for the power slam all but a distant memory. While the likes of #32 imposing his will, not to mention his 7’1”, 325 pound frame on the unfortunate point guard is nothing less than awe inspiring, the league realized that he, and other big men just do not sell shoes or jerseys, and that they were not going to be cash cows like Jordan, Bryant, James, or Durant are.
The Chicago Bulls Joakim Noah is considered a superstar center who, at 6’11” and 232 lbs., is more of a power forward in any other era. He is justifiably credited for his aggressiveness and desire to attack the basket, however, he does have the benefit of a free lane with no 325 pound behemoth camped out in anticipation. While the Bulls center is a legitimate player and a wonderful talent, he might not be so aggressive if he knew the Diesel of 1995 was lying in wait under the rim. One could also make an argument for the man of gargantuan shoulders, Dwight Howard, who was supposed to take the reins from the Big Aristotle a couple of years back, but the flighty, 6’10” 240 center for the Rockets is more at home wearing a different jersey every other week than actually getting down to business and continuing the big man legacy.
2. The Kevin Durant Equation
With the injury plagued Kobe Bryant on the sidelines for the foreseeable future, LeBron James has been holding court, however, it is Kevin Durant, the Small Forward for OKC who has been laying low in the tall grass as the man ready to dethrone the King and lead the NBA into the next decade. Durant has been piling up scoring titles in recent seasons and it would appear that his upside is without reproach. However, from his early days on, Kevin has been labeled as more of a prodigious outside scorer and a mediocre defender. His personality has been called passive, and his size and stature, 6’9 and a very generous listing of 240 pounds, leaves much to be desired. Looking at Kevin, one must wonder how he doesn’t get blown over by a strong breeze if an attendant happens to open up a door in the arena. On the heels of the aggressive, explosive, and exciting play of Jordan, Bryant, and James for almost three decades, is this the guy we want as the future face of the National Basketball Association; hmm…
1. Less of a Role Player Sport and More About the All-Star Team
If there is anything that has changed dramatically, it is the manner in which players are moving around in an attempt to create their own super power. This began a few years back with Shaquille O’Neal realizing that a move to Miami, and a partnership with a relative unknown Dwyane Wade, was just the tonic that he needed to win again. This was followed up by the gathering of mega talent in Boston where the “Big Three” aligned in an effort to conquer the universe. Of course we cannot forget about the avalanche of drama created by LeBron James and “the decision.” And most recently, All-Star Center, Dwight, “I’m confused, where do I play again” Howard and his move first to be with Kobe Bryant in Lakerland, and then with James Harden in Rocketland.
It is hard to argue with the All-Star formula as it has led to titles for all of the above except Flighty Dwight. However, prior to the current formula, legitimate dominance over the years included the #1 and #2 guys, ala Kareem and Magic, Michael and Scottie, and Shaq and Kobe, along with a revolving cast of role players who maintained a balanced attack for a winning tradition.
While the Lakers won three back to back titles in the 2000’s with their dynamic duo, they may not have only gotten any of them if it weren’t for guys like Robert Horry knocking down winners, Rick Fox playing tenacious D, or Derek Fisher running a smooth triangle offense. The same could be said for Jordan, Pippen, and the Bulls who relied on the clutch play of Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, Ron Harper and others to be able to dominate for more than half of a decade in the sport.
It remains to be seen as to how long the current “All-Star” formula with little defense and power forwards playing center will continue in the league, but one thing is for sure, there are not that many LeBron James’ and Kevin Durant‘s out there, and when those guys move on to the old-timers golf circuit, what will the Association be left with?