Friday, January 20, 2012

The Fall of the NBA

If the 1980's and early 1990's represented the "golden age" of basketball, then this millennium should be dubbed the "plastic age." Might be pretty enough to pass for something valuable on the outside, but once you crack into it, you discover it's just cheap with no substance.

As one of NBA commissioner David Stern's biggest critics, I have to first give credit where it's due -- I applaud Stern in his efforts to make NBA games as viewer-friendly as possible. You can tune into any game or jump onto Youtube and find all the highlights, game recaps, and interviews your mind can handle. This might not seem like much to the casual fan, but don't take it for granted -- Bud Selig and the MLB are still light years behind on this matter. The NBA, thanks to Stern, is extremely accessible to both the casual and diehard fan.

However, there are still countless problems with the NBA. I'll just mention my top 3 qualms regarding the players, the officials, and the commissioner.

The Players

Basketball IQ is dead and gone like a fart in the wind. RIP mid-range jumpshots, back screens, blocking out, and decent man-to-man defense. The NBA is now a hotbed for players trying to be heroes. Everybody wants to make Sportscenter instead of doing the little things to win the game.

Back in the day, the majority of players would take a defensive assignment seriously. It'd be a battle within a war, but in a good way. Michael Jordan would scoff at the thought of you trying to stop him from scoring AND at the thought of you trying to score on him. Nowadays? Few people give two craps about playing good defense. You score on me? Who cares -- I'll just score on you now. This is the era of basketball that has birthed phrases such as a "two-way player," referring to a guy being able to play both offense, and (gasp) defense. Oh, the humanity! What was commonplace a decade ago is now a novelty.

But can you really blame these kids? I call them kids cuz that's precisely what they are. Kids coming out after a year of college who would be completely unprepared for the NBA life of my childhood. These rookies come to the NBA so raw, usually getting paid on nothing but heaps of "potential." A rule change to require players to be at least three years removed from high school would help BOTH NBA basketball and NCAA basketball. Players would be given a chance to learn the game on the court and grow up off the court. The NBA would enjoy higher quality basketball, and the NCAA wouldn't be gutted of talent on an annual basis. Wins all around.

The Officials

We all know NBA officials don't exactly have objective minds of their own. Every year, they are told about different points of emphasis and rule interpretations to focus on. My main beef with the officials boils down to flopping, superstar calls, and the lack of calls for carrying/travelling.

Flopping is so prevalent in the league now. Not only do referees not punish players for doing it, they are actually rewarded. I don't think I need to elaborate any more on that front -- it is what it is.

I am aware that superstar calls existed even in the golden age, but enough is enough. There's so many politics involved with the NBA game nowadays that the superstars of the game could get away with murder on the hardwood.

The whole carrying/travelling thing links in with this topic, but it sickens me how many times a game players will carry the ball, change pivots, shuffle their feet, or take too many steps. The fundamentals of the game have gone by the wayside, and referees are turning a blind eye to all of these rule violations.

The Commissioner

I thought the mishandling of the lockout situation was bad enough, but David Stern kept his best move for the Chris Paul fiasco. If you were living under a rock during that time, let me sum it up for you:

1. The Hornets were looking for a new owner.
2. The NBA purchased the Hornets.
3. The Lakers, Rockets, and Hornets took part in a 3-team trade that would send CP3 to the Lakers.
4. David Stern nixed the trade for "basketball reasons."
5. Repeat #3.
6. Repeat #4.

I have a friend who defends David Stern as if he were blood-related, and his response to the commish nixing the trades was that Stern was doing it to support his family. In essence, as the commissioner, he is just a puppet working for the league owners, and he had to veto the trade in order to keep his job and feed his family.

Aside from all the balderdash in those statements, I will say this -- as commissioner of the NBA, it was his job to have the foresight to know that the NBA purchasing the Hornets was a terrible idea and would inevitably lead to a conflict of interests nightmare. 29 NBA owners having control over the 30th team? How does that make sense to anybody?

Furthermore, regarding the actual veto, let's not act as if David Stern did not have a choice. You always have a choice. And in this case, Stern chose to set a shameful precedent for the league. Just to make it clear, as a diehard Rockets fan, I did not care for the trade that would have brought Pau Gasol to Houston, but as a sensible person and fan of the game, I realized that the trade had to go through in order for the league to not lose the little amount of credibility that it had left. There have already been whispers for years of fixed games, playoff matchups, and the league playing favorites, but this event just called attention to the elephant in the room.

And to think, the league commissioner had the opportunity to set it all straight by allowing the trade and gaining back some goodwill for the NBA, especially after losing countless fans due to the lockout, but instead, he pulled his best Vince McMahon impersonation and showed everyone he still writes the scripts.

With all my complaining about the NBA, do I still watch the games? Yes. But my motivation for doing so stems from supporting my team (by wanting them to tank), following my fantasy basketball players, and keeping up with my daily wagers. I know a lot of you still live and die by the NBA and think I'm just being dramatic when I say all this stuff against the league, but whether you want to admit it or not, from a basketball standpoint, the level of play has drastically worsened.

Now please excuse me while I go reminisce about the NBA in all its glory back when there were still Sunday tripleheaders on NBC, and Anfernee Hardaway was still shooting commercials with Lil Penny.


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