He passionately argued these stars would have no problems retaining status. In fact, it was not weaker but stronger. Play today is just ‘flashy’ or ‘fancy’, not quality. While I respect his opinion as a fan supporting his players to do it he had to more or less ignore an exhaustive list of strong points which settled all but his mind.
Its self-evident the league has evolved from it’s past, I won’t write about that, but rather what I learned: the basketball fan in general has evolved with the league. In fairness its possible he’s right and I am wrong. I doubt it based on full games and clips I’ve watched. Compared to today’s game it looks like the video game graphic at the top of this blog.
- – Most of that era’s players actually learned to play with soccer balls
- – the talent pool they came from was literally 1000’s of times smaller
- – the league was so bad defensively that a player could average 50 points, a triple double or 20 boards for a whole season
- – Players didn’t really know how to box out and rarely did, even on foul shots
- – In 10 years from 1966 to 1976 the size of the league more then doubled from 9 to 24
- – teams allowing way more scrubs who had never once played at that level into the league to get beat up on by the pros
- – At the same time as that expansion the ABA opened it’s doors. 3 years later NBA owners voted 14-3 to let them merge cuz they knew they were getting crushed.
- – In 1976 when the merger happened 75% of the ABA players made the NBA sending many star’s victims home
- – of the 4 teams who merged the Spurs won division titles 5 of their first 6 years. The Nuggest were 1-3 games from the league’s best record. The Nets who were the best team in the ABA were forced to sell their best player Dr. J and move the team due to the severe financial/draft limitations. Their other great player, Nate tiny Archibald broke his foot. The team still won 22 games.
- – when the merger happened many stars stats plummeted… some from top five to out of the top 20 in many cats
- – Elgin Baylor, a 6′ 5″ player averaged 35 and freaking 20 and 38/19 in back to back seasons. He was 6’5″ and was one of the first players who could actually play, but he was 6’5″. That’s almost a 40/20
- – one player had a 55 rebound game as well as many other 40+ 50+ games, as did a few other dominant players. In the past 25 years of basketball and more, there has not been a single game over 35 and only a handful close to it
- – Jerry West at the 2 guard put up better numbers then Michael Jordan in his prime in the 90’s, better then Lebron, better then Kobe in his prime, he was 6’2″, could not jump, could shoot the lights out and D’ed up, but could barely dribble with his left hand… he was 6’2″
- – While not playing basketball players did not spend time doing anything else but having sex with women and jumping. That’s how Wilt had a 50″ vert and planted his stilt in 20,000 pieces of trash… well u know, according to him.
- – Players used to actually smoke butts at halftime of games
- – One of Bill Russel’s ‘innovations’ on the game was learning that jumping helped you block shots: read this quote: “To play good defense… it was told back then that you had to stay flatfooted at all times to react quickly. When I started to jump to make defensive plays and to block shots, I was initially corrected, but I stuck with it, and it paid off.”
There are 5 myopia inducing Fan eras with plenty of overlap in the group. Fans form opinions about the game and once set its locked in for life. While the 90’s/MJ era stands alone as a seperate era, in terms of fandom, the game was very much the same as in the latter 70’s and early 00’s. Fan eras tend to be driven by how basketball is thought about rather then those who play it so things like major rule changes are the turning points. There are 4 fan eras of hoop:
Pre Shot Clock Era
Simultaneously equipment was improving. Basketballs before the late late 40’s and early early 50’s were not quite symmetrical and did not bounce consistently. Dribbling therefore didn’t become a crucial part of the game till the 50’s altering how you played. Basketball resembled team hand ball with limited on-ball movement resulting in a very pass oriented game. Maybe an old timer thinks George “Mr. Basketball” Mikan is the greatest but its like trying to argue Charlie Chaplin being more talented then Martin Scorcese.
Post Shot Clock To The 1976 ABA/NBA Merger
Athletic players in the NBA were not really welcomed or accepted. People rarely dunked and much of the league was still quite slow. This era was dominated by the Celtic’s 11 championships in 13 years and fostered rules to limit Wilt Chamberlain’s size induced dominance.
While players like Jerry West, Bill Russell and Elgin Baylor dramatically increased elite talent the NBA expanded from 9 to 24 teams negating them. Simultaneously the
In 1976 75% of the merging
Fans in this era may tend to feel the well documented statistical achievements of the players indicate supreme strength. Due to their disproportionate size many also consider the era’s centers the best to ever to play.
Factoring into their stats however is a much faster pace (25 possessions/game or more) and watery competition sporting boys to take on the men. The size factor meant the few truly dominant bigs feasted on a league of diminutive front court players. Elgin Baylor at 6’5″ approached scoring 40 PPG and 20 boards over an enitre season. Twice! Nuff said.
Merger To Bad Boys 2
One of the reasons bigs were able to dominate pre-merger was absence of the 3 point shot
This new unclogged middle opened up the game spawning new strategies featuring athletic players quick players. A 6’5” player who could jump could get a very high percentage dunk or grab a rebound over a center who had moved out of defensive position. Pro ball as we know it was born when the ABA brought it’s style and talent to the NBA.
Offensive juggernauts like the Celtics/Lakers led by Bird and Magic flourished as the running game exploded on the 1980’s NBA. Jordan and Dominque were fixtures of the league’s highlights and stats. No guard had ever been able to control games like this. They could nearly beat the other team all by themselves as long as it was close near the end. In Jordan’s rookie season he dropped 63 points on a shocked Celtics team. Larry Bird won the game. His face however acknowledged some part of of him had been defeated.
In response new sophisticated defensive schemes were developed to fight back. The Pistons bad boys team were notoriously physical taking contact to a whole new level. Result: back to back championships. Could have been 3 but the Lakers were bailed out by Pistons injuries in 1988. They made specific “Jordan Rules” to wear down the game’s best player with success.
Defense intensified into the 90’s. Teams saw it as the only way to stop the freakishly athletic new breed of players from crushing them on a nightly basis. Pat Reilly’s Knicks and Heat teams took advantage of ‘hand checking’ loop holes in the rules to literally beat on anyone scoring in the paint. Players like
Fans from this era are invariably obsessed with defense and incredible individual play capable of beating those defenses. MJ’s quote “defense wins championships” is used more then Michael Jackson’s attorney. After years of marketing ‘superstars’ the league was at a loss on how to sell team defense to it’s fanbase without an MJ caliber superstar to beat them. Combined with the late 90’s parade of reitring superstars and weak drafts, they started to feel desperate
The league attempted to curtail the physicality with little success. A tipping point was reached when the second Pistons defensive powerhouse, with no marketable ‘stars’, bullied their way to a 4-1 finals victory (and near sweep) over the NBA’s flagship Lakers team. LA was fielding 4 future HOF players in their prime to late prime, and all arguably more talented the their counterparts who won ‘the belts’.
2005 Rule Changes To Present
NBC was in a similar scenerio a few years back when it replaced Carson with Leno only to learn that Letterman and the guy who replaced David were both much better at the job. NBC was stuck with Leno and it’s solution was to copy Letterman’s old material and showcase it being fronted by Jay. The NBA did the same thing and copied their 70’s ancestors. Instead of copying the 3 point line, they just told their refs to give stars more calls then ever and fronted it as a minor ‘rule revision’.
Stern created the world’s first ref fueled time machine. Hand checking which had been made illegal already was redefined to allow a ref to call fouls on even the most minimal contact or just for plainly arbitrary reasons. A defensive 3 seconds forced centers out of the lane and defensive position to block shots and rebound. Refs were told to call as much contact on the perimeter as possible.
It worked. Big time. Steve Nash experienced an unprecedented non-stereoid fueled resurgence at 30. He won two back to back MVP’s
The Pistons did luck into the finals again due to Dwyane Wade’s shoulder injury but lost to the Spurs… SA had equally good defense but it their guards won the series for them. Their penetration game was built for the new rules. Tony Parker led the league in points in the paint, something no small guard had ever done. The next year saw two offensive teams in the finals with Wade’s call inflated games defeating the Mavs.
What does this say about the fans of this new era? I really can’t tell. I cut my teeth on the defensive 80’s/90’s making it hard to get a good read. Defense is still important but you can’t win a title without quick slashing players. Effective centers are shrinking in size and weight as mobility to get back into position is trumping power and the banging game.
Players like Marcus Camby, Josh Smith, Amare Stoudamire and Dwight Howard have become the best bigs in the game while 7’6” Yao Ming, who would have been a defensive monster in the 90’s (Manute Bol blocked 5 shots a game in that era!) just does not seem quick enough to get to the spot and protect the rim or board. The league has gone from rebound/defend to slash and kick.
Fans who didn’t experience the 90’s may rate these skills as the most important facets of a good basketball star. That was
Only time will tell. Many claim you can’t compare eras. On stats alone I agree. You can with the right concessions, but maybe comparison is not the right approach as understanding eras garners more legit results. I still think the overall growth of the game and especially the use of athletic ability to not only overpower/out finesse truly trumps many past era superstars. Jerry West would not put up
Still have to know your roots though. You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re from. You don’t want to be the young punk who just does not understand the game but if you look at things honestly you can also avoid being that guy who can’t let go of the past.
This is part of one NBA Fan Evolution. If you enjoyed it be sure to check out part 2. It will examine fan evolution in the context of these eras with regard to the growth of media, technology and general sophistication. Available now, click here!
So just one last video… this is Elgin Baylor’s 61 point FINALS performance. Where is the D? Where is the speed? This guy nearly averaged a 40/20 for two seasons and is routinely compared to players like Barkley and Lebron.