Lamenting the State of the NBA

by Coach Czes

Last night after attending several clinics at the NABC Convention in Detroit, I went back to my hotel in Windsor to relax and transcribe my notes from the clinics into my laptop and write up this newsletter.

Before getting to work I realized I hadn’t eaten in about 8 hours so I walked down the street to a restaurant to grab dinner. As I finished ordering, I looked up and noticed that the replay of a Bulls-Celtics game from March 31st, 1991 was starting on ESPN Classic on one of the TV’s in the restaurant.

Now for those that don’t know me, I should tell you that I stopped watching the NBA several years ago. Actually, I remember the exact moment I stopped watching – March 10th, 2004 at around 7:00pm. The Lakers and Celtics – two of the league’s most storied franchises – were playing a late season game with playoff implications for both teams (the Lakers trying to secure home court advantage and the Celtics trying to secure the last spot in the playoffs).

At the start of the second half Ricky Davis stole a pass from Gary Payton – what happened next can best be explained by the ESPN recap:

“Davis started the second half with a steal and breakaway, but when he tried a highlight-show dunk he lost control of the ball. With half of the court to himself, Davis tried to go between his legs and make a windmill dunk, but the ball flew up and over the rim.

Davis retrieved the ball, and before Bryant could get back on defense, Davis made a windmill dunk as his teammates burst into laughter.”

You can also read the Play-By Play by clicking here.

The “highlight-show dunk” attempt was something that irritated me, but what made me change the channel for the past 5 years was that when Davis retrieved the ball after the miss, it was at the 3-point line. He had time to go back get the ball, and then dunk it again before any Laker got onto the screen! On the court for the Lakers were THREE future NBA “Hall of Famers” in Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Gary Payton. Karl Malone was sitting on the bench with an injury or this would have been even worse.

At that moment it hit me like a ton of bricks that the NBA was headed in a direction that valued showboating and doing “just enough” until the 4th quarter or until the playoffs, and it made me sad. I wondered aloud if the top players in the league didn’t have the pride to run back on defense, then what the heck is this league all about? I have not watched a full NBA game since, and the little bit I have seen or read about leads me to believe that things have only gotten worse.

So – back to my story – I am sitting at dinner watching the Bulls-Celtics replay from 1991 and really enjoying both the quality of the food and the quality of the basketball being played.

Perhaps it was the nostalgia of seeing the parquet floor at the old Boston Garden, or of seeing a “scrawny” Michael Jordan playing again in his prime for my formerly beloved Bulls, but I became overcome with emotion about what I was seeing.

The first thing that stood out was how each team was scoring. Players were consistently hitting 12-15 footers AND free throws! I had forgotten the mid-range game ever existed in the NBA, and when someone went to the line in this game you actually expected them to make both shots! Even the best athletes on the floor (Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Reggie Lewis, and Dee Brown) were included in this display of skill.

I witnessed quality post play in which players were actually completing post moves with the ball leaving their hand before getting to the basket as opposed to just turning and dunking the ball on top of someone.

Most impressive, I saw players both on the court and on the benches thoroughly invested in the outcome of each play. There were far more shots of bench reactions after big plays than you see in games today, and the emotion displayed gave me goose bumps! I watched a hobbled Larry Bird diving for loose balls, Kevin McHale bouncing up and down and patting guys on the butt after big possessions even though he looked like he needed oil, and Cliff Levingston leaving his feet more cheering on the bench than he did when he was in the game!

I started to wonder if the some of the great players on the screen in front of me would even make an NBA team in today’s game. Certainly Larry Bird, Reggie Lewis, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen would be OK, but what about some of the others?

How would Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish, John Paxson, and Bill Cartwright fare in today’s game? Would players like Will Perdue and Joe Kleine have any chance at all to make an NBA roster?

I hear a lot of talk that today’s game is more exciting because of the raw athleticism displayed by today’s players. There can’t be much question that skill has taken a back seat to the aforementioned athleticism, and it has changed the game significantly. Watching the players in this game labor up and down the court made me realize just how much faster today’s game is played.

In the midst of transitioning to this fast, “exciting” new style of play, some important things were lost in translation. The mid-range game, free throw shooting and skilled post play have gone by the wayside. This game finished 135-132 in double overtime. It was tied at 110 at the end of regulation. The Celtics shot 55.6% from the field and the Bulls shot 32 of 35 from the free throw line (91.4%)!

In contrast to today’s “more exciting” game, teams now average 100 points a game, shoot 46% from the field and shoot 77% from the line on average across the league. These numbers are not bad, but the quality of the defense in the first 3 quarters of games contributes a bit to that.

If you haven’t done so recently, I encourage you to watch one of these classic NBA games and see what I am talking about. I, for one, will be tuning in to ESPN Classic far more regularly from now on!

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