The morphing of NBA basketball into hockey


( Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune / April 21, 2011 ) Derrick Rose fights for possession with Indiana's Josh McRoberts in the second quarter. Just one of the many scrums that marked Thursday's game.

Basketball used to be a sport of strength and finesse. Now--at least for the NBA--it's a game simply of brute strength, and that's a loss.

Gradually, the sport changed from "no-contact" to what it is today: Shoving players out of position, especially under the basket. Charging into a bunch of players, hoping to get (and inevitably) getting a foul. Committing potentially career-ending intentional fouls across the face and head.

Now, the game amounts to a contest of who is bigger and meaner. It has become just a notch above professional wrestling. It has become a joke.

Watching last night's Bulls victory over Indianapolis, I experienced a sense of loss of love of a sport of ballet-like virtuosity and grace. Michael Jordan may have been the last of the great players whose moves were polished and skillful. His body control was a graceful avoidance of the kind of primitive crashing together of huge masses that we witness today.

The National Basketball Association has allowed the game to descend to this goofy, out-of-control thumping, whacking and clobbering level. Maybe the referees can't be blamed because even the best pair of eyes (even in slow motion) is challenged to separate the challenger from the challenged; the charger from the chargee. This has been allowed to gradually happen over the years by the non-enforcement of all of the game's rules.

How often go you see "traveling" called on players that hop, skip and jump with the ball as they charge the basket? Maybe once in a game, when dozens of instances of traveling are ignored. You can do amazing things with a ball when you are allowed to run to the basket without worrying about dribbling.

Big, sweating bodies clobbering each other apparently sells better to today's fevered audiences than does a game of strategy, grace and finesse. I predict that it won't be long before NBA allows the kind of checking by defenders allowed in football when wide receivers come off the line. In its metamorphous into a form of dry-floor hockey, NBA basketball could soon require protective headgear and pads. Some of today's boorish fans might find it fun to watch, but for those of us who love basketball for how it should be played, it won't be basketball. 

Filed under: Uncategorized

Tags: basketball, NBA, sports


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  • I didn't think last night's game was all that bad. Physical? Yes. Dirty? No. And the nation agrees with me., while not a clear authority nor with any science involved, issued a poll to ask that exact question and an overwhelming majority of responders said it was just physical play and not dirty. Could a few flagrants or technicals have been called? Sure. But I liked the way the game was being played. The lack of technicals allowed the game to be more fluid. There's nothing worse than a chippy game, and I think the officials know that. Indiana just played harder. They were more physical. The Bulls had no answer to that physicality. The best response was exactly what they did: win. Indiana can push around D Rose and co. all they want, but in the end, the Bulls won. And that's the biggest foul of all.

    It's never been a wussie game, even when Jordan and the supposed graceful ballers were playing.

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