During the offseason NBA TV will reshow some classic games and when you look back at older eras a few things jump out at you. For one, the game was played much faster in the 1980s — the Dallas Mavericks were the slowest paced team in 1985 at 98.8 possessions a game, the Rockets were the fastest in 2013 at 96.1.
Also, back in the 1980s and 90s, the game was allowed to be much more physical.
Matt Barnes was watching some of those old games and sent out this tweet.
There are a lot of fans who ask the same question.
The answer is that many more fans stopped watching. During the 1990s teams used that physical play to turn the NBA game into much more of a grind, a battle nightly, and once the star of Michael Jordan went away a lot of fans showed their distaste for the style of play by tuning out. Ratings means money for television contracts, and money is what drivesthe league.
Calling the game tighter and making hand checking on the perimeter a foul opened the game up — quickness mattered, ball handling mattered, not just who could score through another hard foul. That combined with (and partially inspired by) bigs who could handle the ball on the wings (Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and so on) changed the entire idea of positions and how to win games. Eventually ratings returned (although they now and forever remain star driven mostly).
The bottom line is the guys who played in the 1960s thought the game of the 1980s was soft. Now guys from the ‘80s think today’s game is soft. In 20 years we can hear Kobe Bryant complain about how the game in 2030 is soft. It’s a cycle that will go on as long as the NBA.