I am so weary of the “get off my lawn” generation saying how much better things were when they played the game. I love Steve Kerr’s sarcastic response during the last NBA Finals: “It’s weird how human evolution goes in reverse in sports. Players get weaker, smaller, less skilled. I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”
The latest ridiculousness — and this is genuinely an offensive comment — comes from one of the leaders of the “get off my lawn” camp, former Knick Charles Oakley. He was speaking in Dallas before this weekend’s Big3 event when he said this:
First and foremost, the “wearing dresses” comment is sexist. Flat out. If I need to explain to you why, or if you don’t realize just how many women are tougher than men, then you need to re-examine your values.
Bigger picture, NBA game now is more physical than many fans realize, but it is not as physical as it was in the 1990s — by league design. While everyone likes to remember Michael Jordan from the ’90s, the slowed down, grinding style of basketball played by the Knicks, Cavaliers and other teams was dull to watch — they strove to take away the athleticism of other teams with physicality. Also tedious was all the isolation offense — it looks great when MJ or Allen Iverson do it, but those other 28 teams… not so much. Eight guys on one side of the floor watching two guys (because there was no zone defense) was not pretty. It sucked the beauty out of the game. We should remember parts of 1990s basketball fondly, there were great moments and legendary players, but to hold it up as a paragon of how the game should be played is to be willfully blind to the aesthetics and what we say we want to see in the game.
The league changed the zone defense and hand-checking rules, and that combined with a wave of more modern analytical thinking has led to a more up-tempo game where the ball moves, players move off the ball, and defenses are more complex and require more focus than they used to. It’s not perfect, and there were good things in the 1990s, but listening to Oakley just slam today’s players with sexist remarks makes me feel like I’m sitting in my living room on Thanksgiving afternoon listening to my drunk uncle spout off.