Wednesday, May 16, 2007

This is Why We're... uh... NOT So Hot

I just read The Sports Guy's reaction piece to the events following the Suns-Spurs game on Monday night. In case you missed it, here's a recap:
  • Leaving the game, everyone knew Horry was getting suspended. No question.
  • Leaving the game, the Suns were terrified that the league would suspend Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for leaving the bench after the Horry hip check on Nash
  • Anyone who remotely enjoys basketball (and isn't a Spurs fan) was disgusted at the potential destruction of this competitive series with the suspension, particularly, of Amare Stoudemire
  • The League comes out on Tuesday with the results: Horry, the instigator, the only guy who hit anybody, gets 2 games--fair. But Amare and Boris, two guys who looked more like they were running to the aid of their fallen teammate than headhunting, lost their game 5 eligibility.
Needless to say, I am more than disgusted with all of this. I mean, my team is already knocked out of the playoffs, but I am a fan of the sport. So anywhere there's good basketball, whether its on Streetball: The And1 Mixtape Tour or one of the 40 Games in 40 Nights on TNT, I want to watch it.

But this move by the NBA? To choose to enforce a rule that won't even be in existence next year (not after this incident) over the integrity and competitiveness of what will likely be the defining series of this year's playoffs... is unconscionable.

In The Sports Guy's piece, he talks about the bastardization of NBA basketball. He particularly notes how the passion and emotion have been ripped out by the rules and regulations and their enforcement. I was especially interested and in agreement when he contrasted the NBA's cheek-turning to Bruce Bowen's constant physical "accidents" with two players being suspended for likely just looking after their teammate. And on that note, whether that was their motive or not doesn't even really matter--discussing motive is only meaningful when an infraction is actually committed. They didn't do ANYTHING!!!

But I want to take his piece one step further. We've been having these complex discussions and attempted analyses as to why our Olympic teams aren't so... Dreamy... anymore. In case you may have watched the Olympics, and you've forgotten, let me remind you: the NBA still has the most athletic, talented, physically-gifted, mentally trained players in the entire world. We've gone and gotten our butts handed to us a couple times in the last few years, but it's been more out of our failing than the opponent's supremacy.

From what's happened in this series, it has finally hit me--why we can't beat international teams, why the term "team ball" is now forcibly synonymous with "small ball," and why Shaquille O'Neal, in my opinion, has to definitely move UP the ladder to at least Top 3 in the G.O.A.T. category.

The NBA has totally outlawed physical contact.

Look at the number of flops and charges taking place in each game (as Simmons also bemoans).

Look at the concurrent plight of the big men since the rule was enstated (big men have no advantage over smaller guys anymore--floppers have relegated most of them to defense-only contributions... Camby, Diop, Big Ben).

Look at how scared the NBA is that these guys will even get near each other (penalty for getting more than an inch off the bench or onto the floor).

The major problem is, since so many players have come straight out of high school in the past decade, and have learned the game of basketball on the NBA hardwood, we have raised a crop of uber-talented players, even superstars, that have NO idea how to play physical basketball. Remember, these guys have made it where they are BECAUSE of their physical gifts, but then when they get to the NBA level, they are told to play heartless, unemotional, non-physical, paddy-cake team ball--and never look back.

So what happens when we play internationally? We send a bunch of physically gifted players- who aren't used to playing together and have no idea how to use their physical advantages- over to play against teams full of guys with NO physical gifts but who have played together for years and are fundamentally sound enough to take advantage of our team's inability to use its greatest advantage, due to the bastardization and sissification of all that was, that had been, NBA basketball.

We wonder why so many big men suck now. Maybe it's because they're having to go around people like guards, because any time they go bumbling towards the basket and a smaller man gets in the way, they're gonna be heading to the bench with a charging foul. The paint used to be a battleground, and now it's just where you go where you want to pick up a charge. Have I used the word disgusting yet?

Then lastly it's miraculous to think that in the midst of all this emphasis on removing physical play from the sport, Shaquille O'Neal has still been such a dominant force. I would love to imagine what Shaq could have done if the rules were as uninhibiting as they were in Wilt's time. Imagine for a minute... if you gave him points for HALF of the charges he's accrued (I'm sure we're being generous--more than half have to be flops), he would probably have averaged 30 in every season up until this year. I'm neither a Shaq fan or basher, but sometimes I felt terribly seeing people hang all over him on one play, and then fall backwards and get a foul on him the next.

This series-- in a word-- has become...disgusting. The Suns are exactly what the NBA has set itself up to create-- a small, fast, system-oriented team that has taken advantage of the less physical nature of today's game. And they are being bullied by a team that has learned that the same league that outlaws physical play somehow ignores dirty play. So rather than physically gifted players or team-first players getting the breaks and having success, we're giving Game 5's away to teams that have refined their dirty play as much as their defense. I DON'T love THIS game.

I'm interested to see how this shapes the future of pro basketball (could this all lead to another "ABA"situation?--the success of Streetball may indicate that Americans are no longer NBA-exclusive for their basketball fixes). It makes me wonder if super talents like Dwight Howard will ever develop into the beast we think they should. Shaq went to college and learned how to use his gifts. But Dwight is learning how to ball in the No Balls Association (thanks again, Simmons)... where his physical gifts will likely become an unused liability.

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