Posted: Thursday November 10, 2005 11:18AM; Updated: Thursday November 10, 2005 11:20AM
There is no question that too much money at too young an age has given many of the league's young players a perverse view of reality and a disturbing sense of entitlement. But that can happen to anyone who gets too much too soon. I guarantee you that phenoms in other pursuits -- Britney Spears and tennis player Maria Sharapova to name two -- have as misguided a view of how the world works as the callow millionaires in the NBA do.
2. The players are more interested in showing up their opponents than in playing ball.
The sermonizers have this wrong. They're actually talking about the NFL, which gets an enormous free pass in our culture. I don't know how people watch pro football, far less venerate it. Endless stoppages of play. Multiple injuries. Disgustingly overweight linemen. Coaches throwing flags to call for replays. And -- most of all -- preening players who celebrate tackles and pass deflections, never mind touchdowns, as if they've won the medal of honor.
Pro basketball had a spell in the mid- to late 1990s when players taunted each other after dunks and demonstrated other forms of unsportsmanlike behavior. It looked awful and hurt the game. By and large, the league's best players got the message and, while it still happens, it's hardly epidemic, as it is in the NFL.
3. Nobody plays hard until the fourth quarter.
A desultory first half in the NFL means the teams are "feeling each other out." In the NBA, it means that everyone is laying down on the job. This claim is utter nonsense. And the amazing thing is, I hear it from the sermonizers right after they tell me, "I never watch a game." So how do they know?
4. Players skills have deteriorated.
Probably true. But deteriorated from when? I do think the game looked better in the '80s and through the early '90s. But I guarantee you it didn't look better in the '50s. And deteriorated why? Certainly the infusion of young players, who have not refined their skills, is part of the reason. But part of the fault lies also with the coaches, who, concerned about their jobs, have taken control of the game away from the players.
Did the Phoenix Suns look like a team without skills last year? Hardly. That's because they ran up and down the court and played a players' game, not a coaches' game. Endless isolations and one-on-one play will necessarily produce an inferior product.
5. Hip-hop culture has co-opted the game.
Probably true. It doesn't matter that Bryant and Tim Duncan and Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade and Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill and Elton Brand and Richard Jefferson and Michael Redd and Ben Wallace and Bruce Bowen and Emeka Okafor and Chris Bosh (and that's not even to get into the white guys) are about as hip-hop and urban as Larry Bird and John Stockton. The game has been marketed in an edgy fashion that appeals to black culture, more specifically, young black culture, and white America, to a large extent, is turned off by this. It may not be racist. But it is racial. The sermonizers see a game that isn't played for them, and so they take it out on the game. The players stink. The quality stinks. The referees stink.
Even in the glory Magic-Michael-Larry days of the '80s, pro basketball never had the secure hold on American sports culture that football and baseball do even today. The players mattered, but the game didn't. And so the NBA has always been defined by its weaknesses, rather than its strengths. Barry Bonds acts like an idiot and that's on Barry Bonds. Terrell Owens acts like an idiot, and that's on Terrell Owens. Iverson rants about how he dislikes practice, and that's on the entire NBA. I can't even imagine what people would be saying if the NBA had a steroid problem like the one plaguing baseball right now. Or if Iverson had torn apart the 76ers in the same fashion that Owens tore apart the Philadelphia Eagles this season, I honestly feel he would've had to fear for his life.
I want to emphasize again that the NBA has problems, and I will no doubt be addressing them in the months ahead. But I am declaring right now that I am officially sick of the OWGS. NBA referee Bennett Salvatore happened to be at the same wedding I was at, and I said, "Man, you must get it all the time because people recognize you."
Salvatore had an answer. "As soon as they start up, I say, 'Oh, you're mistaking me for my brother Bennett,'" said the veteran official. "'I'm Harry Salvatore, and I don't know what you're talking about.'"