Thursday, May 5, 2011

NBA: Never Been Altered

Ben Roberts

I potentially risk the ire of Balanced Sports' editor-in-chief with the following reflection. Having been on paternity leave recently an old flame has been reignited. Probably it has been since the Chicago Bulls collected their first 1990s 'three-peat' when I last engaged with Basketball and watched the NBA consistently.

Not only have I been taken in by the current play-off series' but I also decided to borrow a couple of DVDs from my brother (who has maintained the fire for the hoops over many years) containing two of Michael Jordan's great performances: 1995 just out of retirement against the New York Knicks, scoring 50 plus points, followed by a flu-ridden Jordan in the 1997 NBA finals helping the Bulls to victory over the Jazz in Salt Lake City (see image).

The combination of the current play-offs with the trip into history led me to surmise that really the game of Basketball hasn't changed all that much, thus the title. Don't read into this negatively or positively, I certainly haven't made a judgement call, nor will I probably be able to back it up with expert opinion. But is it not surprising that someone can make such an observation 18 years since there last serious viewing of the game?
Watching a current match compared to these now 15 years old matches only three things stood out to me as clearly indicating a difference: The sepia toned film of the older matches, the fashions of players differed (though only slightly, spectators differed dramatically) and finally the logos of teams adorning the court. Noticeably none of this reflects the actual gameplay despite some rule changes having occurred.

While I may be mistaken, if it's true, what does this say about the game? Is the controlled environment – constant climate, consistent court, combined with the smaller number of competitors limiting the amount of variation. Minimal adjustment to rules over history? Again let me say that this is no means a negative, just an observation. Most other sports to watch bear little to no resemblance to past matches, certainly Australian football has changed markedly even since the mid 2000s and continues to change season by season and does not have the aforementioned characteristics.

Potentially this observation extends to other USA sporting pursuits where statistics play such an important part of analysis. Few sports with cultural centres outside the United States ever feel free to compare statistics half a century even a century apart, yet this is common place in Basketball and other US sports. Two sports that I have the longest history of following, Cricket and Australian Football, you cannot compare generations with great success given the changes in gameplay, but they do not exist in the heavily controlled environments that characterise Basketball and other USA centric games.

Many have been drawn once again to the NBA this year. I have heard more “water-cooler discussions” on it this year than I probably have in the last 10. How should this be viewed?

To look at it negatively; does this mean that despite my interest being pricked to continue watching this year's play-offs (and supporting the Bulls again), the fact that I cannot see any marked change potentially means that I'll tire of the sport like I did previously. Positively a generational consistency exists. If its true, you can genuinely ask the questions of whether Wilt Chamberlain could have cut it today, or Kobe Bryant in yesteryear; would the Celtics of the 1960s, Lakers of the 1980s and Bulls of the 1990s be successful at any point in history?

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