There was a time not long ago, when I was a huge NBA fan. The 1990s were a glorious time for the Association. Michael Jordan was performing feats that no one had ever seen before. I knew then I was witnessing history. Jordan was, and still is, the best player in the history of the sport. But it wasn’t all his Airness.
The NBA was littered with stars in the decade of grunge. Karl Malone and John Stockton perfecting their two-man game in Utah. Hakeem Olajuwon blocking shots and winning championships in Houston. Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp running amok in Seattle. Charles Barkley being…Charles Barkley. And who can ever forget the Dream Team. The US Men’s Basketball team that went to Barcelona in 1992, and wowed everyone with their gold medal performance.
The games were better then. The flow and pace of the games were so high-tempo that only the fittest survived. With NBC providing wall-to-wall coverage, it seemed the sky was the limit for the NBA.
But now, I find myself caring less and less about the NBA. I scarcely watched the regular season, although I did check the standings on a consistent basis. I told myself I would get more involved at playoff time, when the games really matter. But that hasn’t happened either. With the exception of the Golden State Warriors, these playoffs have been void of excitement. In fact, it would be a complete shock if the Miami Heat don’t win the championship in June.
But that’s the not the only thing wrong with the NBA. I find today’s player to be boorish and obnoxious. Not that players back in the day were angels. Barkley had his run-ins with the law. Kemp has fathered many children with different women. Derrick Coleman was the poster child for spoiled athletes back in the day. Even Jordan had his controversies as well, with his gambling habits attracting attention from unsavoury characters.
But I just can’t connect with today’s player. As great as LeBron James is, I just have a hard time liking the guy. Maybe it’s because the way he left Cleveland to go to Miami as an unrestricted free agent. You remember “The Decision.” Granted, LeBron isn’t your ordinary free agent but did he really need to do a hour-long television special on ESPN with the pandering Jim Gray to announce he was heading to South Beach? Yes, LeBron joined forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to lead the Heat to the 2012 NBA title but the way this was pre-ordained still leaves a bitter taste.
The other best player in the game today, Kobe Bryant is the most insufferable athlete of all time. Yes, Kobe is a great player but his conceited attitude and unpleasant demeanour is a trait that makes him a villain in my eyes. To be brutally honest, I had no sympathy for Kobe when he ruptured his achilles at the end of the regular season. Call it repayment from the basketball Gods.
Then there is Dwight Howard. He claims to be Superman. In reality, he’s an overgrown Clark Kent with a whiny disposition. It started when Howard was in Orlando. The Magic were a team on the rise and reached the NBA Finals in 2009. However, Howard was in the midst of a feud with head coach Stan Van Gundy. Howard even had the gall to go to Magic management and demand Van Gundy be fired, or he’ll leave the team. This was during the Finals! Howard did leave, as he joined the Los Angeles Lakers where his sulky outlook on life continued. It was fitting that he was ejected in the Lakers last playoff game. Howard’s name is in such ill-repute, not even the Washington Wizards are interested in his services.
Then there is the general perception of NBA players. Whether it be truth or fiction, the perception is most players are more interested in making the highlight reel on SportsCentre than winning games. One need to look no further than Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors, who regularly makes ESPN’s top show with a variety of spectacular dunks. Yet the Raptors remain one of the most mediocre franchises in the NBA, missing the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.
Then there is the curious case of Derrick Rose. The star point guard of the Chicago Bulls missed the entire 2012-13 season due to a torn ACL. Yet doctors cleared Rose to play in March. However, Rose claimed that he didn’t feel right and decided not to play this season. Now I’m all for player safety and Rose does know his body better than anyone else, but if an NHL player or NFL player is cleared for action, he’s right back in the thick of things, helping his team to win games. Steve Yzerman didn’t miss a single game in the 2002 playoffs despite being diagnosed with a torn knee ligament. Yzerman’s leadership and his ability to play through the pain helped his Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup that year. Rose on the other hand, couldn’t or wouldn’t withstand the threshold of pain. He decided to watch from the sidelines as the Bulls were dispatched by Miami in the second round.
I mentioned the pace of the game earlier in the piece. The game in the 1990s was fast paced and up-tempo, relying on athleticism and speed. Today’s game is about brute strength and power. You see the same plays over and over again. Pick and roll. Tw0-man game. Throw it inside and hope for a foul. Boring stuff. In the 1990s teamwork was the key. Sure, Jordan had to take over games, but he used and included his teammates as well. Jordan’s passing skills are under-appreciated but were vital to the Bulls’ success. In today’s game, players such as Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook fire up threes like there is no tomorrow. Yes they can hit the three and they do put up a ton of points. But their teammates are often spectators for the most part and not involved in the game. These selfish brats think the more points they score, the more money they make. Sadly, it is true but I don’t see Anthony or Westbrook with championship rings on their fingers.
The end of games is a troublesome spot as well. Now this problem goes back many years but it has to be mentioned. The end of basketball games are nothing but fouls, free throws, timeouts and horrible inbound passes. Let’s start with the timeouts. There are far too many of them in the NBA. I know the networks need to get their commercials in so that Budweiser and Nike can be happy but do we really need a commercial for every 3.5 seconds of playing time? Let’s make this simple. Two media timeouts per quarter and three timeouts per team per half. That’s it. Let the players decide the game, not the coaches or the 2013 Toyota Camry.
The fouls are also a problem. Whenever a team is behind late in the game, they resort to fouling a player on purpose to stop the clock and get possession after the free throws. Here’s a way to solve this problem. Start calling the intentional foul. It’s clear they’re not going for the ball so give the team that was fouled two free throws plus possession afterwards. Don’t like it? Maybe play better in the first 47 minutes of the game. That alone makes free throws somewhat less relevant and reduces the number of inbound passes that cause these ridiculous situations. As far as free throws go, can anyone make them now? If you can’t shoot 75% or better from the charity stripe, you don’t belong in the NBA!
The end of a basketball game is so painful to watch, it’s like having a root canal without Novocaine. Give me overtime in the Stanley Cup playoffs where next goal wins and the action is fast and furious. (And no I’m not talking about the dumb racing movies with Vin Diesel trying to act and failing miserably.)
My love affair with the NBA is in jeopardy. If the sport continues on this downward trend, it won’t be long until I’m totally out of the sport. Yes it can be saved, but drastic changes are needed if I am to come back at full speed. At this rate, hockey, football, soccer, baseball and even rugby are starting to look much more appealing. The choice is yours NBA.
You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973