Roundball Recovery Act
They were giants of the sporting world, names like George Mikan, Bob Pettit, Bill Russell, Wilt the Stilt, Truck, Moses, The Enforcer, Mr. Mean, the Big O, the Big E and the Big Redhead.
Basketball’s leviathans in the low post.
Fans thrilled at their combination of size, strength and agility. The battles they waged under the boards defined the NBA and made sport headlines for over 50 years.
But change is the constant in a consumer democracy.
The Chuck Taylor high-tops and short-shorts are long gone, replaced with hideous foot-wear and a plethora of prison-yard tattoos. Historic but cramped old arenas gave-way to bigger & brighter venues with better seats, paint-happy hardwood and $14.50 nachos.
And no change has been greater than disappearance of the inside game. In particular, the demise of the dominant center and power-forward.
Since the days Kareem Abdul-Jabbar donned Lakers’ royal regalia, you could count on two hands the number of big men who’ve dominated: Robert Parish, Larry Bird, Kev McHale, Bill Laimbeer, Shaq, Magic, Dennis Rodman, Moses & Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard nearly fill out a very short list.
The culprit: NBA’s adoption of the 3-point shot.
The National was sitting pretty in the late 70s. In a State-sponsored legal structure that today embraces monopoly, the Assc’n siphoned what liquidity was left in it’s only competitor, the 10-year old ABA (‘67-76)), negotiated lucrative TV / merchandise deals but then started to get cute in the marketing department.
In 1979 they reached into their former rival’s bag of tricks (the ABA employed the dunk and the tres in 1968 “as marketing tool(s) to compete with the NBA (Wikipedia)”) and pulled out the three-point shot to prime the pump.
And b-ball’s never been the same.
There had been a symmetry, a yin & yang that worked a balance in roundball.
Fans were treated to two theaters of play: one inside where bruisers like Thurmond, Dantley, Unseld, Reed, Walton, Lanier, Maurice Lucas, Cowens, Gilmore and Issel waged war; the other, out on the key where long-rangers David Thompson, West, Bing, Frazier, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, George “Iceman” Gervin, Brian Winters, James Worthy and Vinnie “Microwave” Johnson could heat up in a hurry. And then marvelous middle-men like Bobby Dandridge, Marcus Johnson and Bobby Jones who could seemingly do it all. A veritable smorgasbord of spectacular.
As long as both theaters had direction there was a symbiosis and houses were packed. No need to bait with famble (fantasy-gamble), no tank talk and the game flourished for all ages.
By the mid-90s the physical, combative play which had made the sport so colorful simply vanished. Centers and power forwards devolved into mere supporting cast. Much of the action moved away from the paint and out to the key where guards and wannabes directed the flow and became the stars.
The spotlight swung away from bangers and over to finesse men like Julius Erving and Mike Jordan as the 3-pointer and un-contested dunk became signature plays.
And as most NBA rookies are today on the 3-yr maturation plan they’ll not develop the wide range of skills that stylers like Dr. J and Michael would eventually learn.
“You don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle (Seinfeld).”
They don’t sell the game anymore, they sell celebrity, air-time (TV / Twitter), gambling (FanDuel / DraftKings) and merchandise (cantaloupe-sized driver heads and wicked metal bats in Little League (Outside the Lines (Disney); 3.1.11)). If it generates a revenue stream then history, integrity, quality and sometimes safety it would appear, get swept aside until uproar begins.
When big-shots like Kev Love (6’10) and Kev Durant (6’9) spend half their time on the perimeter, averaging around 400 three’s per season, you know the game’s gone soft. Both should live inside 15 feet. Instead, recent seasons have seen a steady up-tick in their 3PAs, surprising, given the fine shooting touch both possess when not launching long ones (FG%: .444 (.360) / .483 (.380)).
Prime example of a tamer NBA: In a 2012 post-season game between the Lakers and Thunder (G2), with 6 ticks left and down by just one, rather than design a drive to the hoop for two, maybe draw the foul for three and even on a 2-pt miss, possessing good rebound capability (Gasol / Bynum), coach Mike Brown opts for the low-% 3-pt’er that Steve Blake rims out. Both got lambasted post-game but what the Lakers did was SOP in today’s basketball.
There are men who keep alive dynamic play in the paint like Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Kev Love (imagine if he‘d forget the tres), DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond and forward Blake Griffin: A dying breed.
Closing in on 40 (4.25.76), the former Demon Deacon (See Also; Chris Paul) and U.S. Virgin Islands native has seen his scoring average dip under double-digits (8.5) and minutes below the 25 mark (24.9 (55g)) for first time in his illustrious 19-year NBA career. But like the original “Peerless Leader” in Cubs’ champion Mgr / 1B’er Frank “Husk” Chance (1898-1914), the savvy & strength Duncan imbues in his team down the stretch, a roster with no shortage of experience in fellow gray-beards Tony Parker (14), Manu Ginobili (13), Andre Miller (16), Kev Martin (11), David West (12), Matt Bonner (11) and Boris Diaw (11), may make-up for the decline in mobility & capacity that father time always exacts from the athlete who loves the game and goes long.
For the 3-pointer, it’s time it was bounced outta’ the building. Send it, along with dunk contests and home run derby back to Cartoon Country, i.e., Saturday morning TV. That’s not likely to happen but seeing as how the youthenized NBA has no use for the balanced game, maybe a new adult pro league would. Then watch the roundball renaissance begin.
Don’t ever forget this pointer: It’s their business but it’s our game.
Photo credit: T.Duncan, wc, M.Sandoval, 1.28.07; Duncan, 12.05, CC-BY-2.0, wc; D.Cowens, 1976, TSN, R.Kingsbury, wc; K.Durant, wc, K.Allison, 2.1.14; F.Chance, Bain-News, 1913, wc; Straight-Shooter – produce label.
Posted: 3.31.16 @ 5:50pm EST; Copyright © 2016
Filed under: NBA
Tagged with: 1976 ABA-NBA merger, 3-point shot, ahead of the curve, American Basketball Association, Bill Russell, Bob Pettit, center position, Chuck Taylor, Dan Issel, Dave Cowens, famble, Frank “Husk” Chance, George Mikan, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kevin durant, Kevin Love, Manu Ginobili, Nate Thurmond, NBA 2015-16, Pete Maravich, San Antonio Spurs, Straight Shooter, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Wake Forest University, Wes Unseld, Willis Reed