by Ryan Meehan
Friday night I was at a friend’s house watching the Chicago Bulls carefully blow a huge lead to the Utah Jazz. Anytime you blow a huge lead in a game like that, there’s bound to be some frustration that rears its ugly head on the team who’s losing ground. After being boxed out underneath the cylinder on a play that could have gone either way, Carlos Boozer motioned to the official that he didn’t necessarily agree with the call. Even as a fan of the Bulls, I probably wouldn’t have called it either. Boozer did not agree with the referee’s call, and I’m not sure what he said but it sure didn’t seem like much. Nonetheless, he got T’d up for it when on television it hardly looked like it was an issue.
This is a trend that I have noticed has gotten progressively worse as time has worn on – technical fouls getting called where twenty years ago the referee wouldn’t have even dreamed of blowing the whistle. This is a result of several precautionary measures that the NBA as a whole has taken to try and protect the integrity of its product.
Although it would be easy for me to simply bag on David Stern, I think we’ve done enough commissioner bashing on this website for one weekend. Bear in mind that like all of these rule changes, this has to be agreed upon by a majority of the owners. I understand that they wanted to make the rules of the game more strict when it comes to technical fouls because the NBA is desperately trying to shed the thug image that the league has adapted over the past decade and a half, and because they don’t want it to become a situation where the inmates run the asylum.
While this is not a bad thing to aim for, it fails in logic for two simple reasons: First, there will always be a certain “thug image” that surrounds the NBA because that’s just the way things work nowadays. Some of these guys feel outcast if they don’t half full sleeves or a three quarter suit by the day they turn eighteen. (Apparently those are tattoo terms. I will take no emails regarding this matter because I don’t know what any of that means.) A lot of these guys are picked off of the streets of West Philadelphia, the South Side of Chicago, or pretty much anywhere in Brooklyn – there’s only so much street culture you can manage at that point. When a guy’s gone from a bullet wound to a multimillion dollar contract in mere matter of years, it’s hard to justify giving him a technical foul for shrugging his shoulders in the direction of a white dude in his late forties that probably has a substantial amount of money riding on that very game.
Before I had mentioned that twenty years ago a lot of these technical fouls would have not been called. I can’t really stress this enough, and I can’t tell you how much it frustrates me as a fan that can clearly remember a time when the league was full of elbows being thrown and enough sheer passion in general to last for generations. Some of my earliest memories were basketball memories, and thinking about it takes me back to a time when I was younger and my teeth weren’t almost completely rotted through.
Before I had even hit the age of ten, I can remember going over to my grandparents’ house on Sunday afternoons. The whole family would be upstairs drinking wine and discussing adult things which at the time I knew nothing about. (and in some cases still don’t) I on the other hand would be in the basement watching any combination of matchups featuring the following teams: The Sixers, the Lakers, the Celtics, the Bulls, and the Pistons. The Pistons… As Ryan Collins would say “Oh, the humanity…” The Pistons were a perfect example of the way I wish basketball was nowadays. Those guys didn’t give a shit about fines or any of that stuff. They were throwing elbows, swearing left and right, but most importantly they were playing the game with the passion and intensity that it’s supposed to be played with. I would stay down in that basement and watch every series wishing that I would someday have the build to box out like Barkley in the paint.
Of course, none of my basketball skills ever developed to the point where I was able to play in either yesterday’s tougher NBA or today’s tamer one. I had Laimbeer’s tendency to whine at high volumes, but aside from that Ryan Meehan didn’t even play basketball in junior high school. But that never stopped me from remembering how great those old NBA teams were with their determination to get to the ball no matter how much energy they expended. It was most certainly the complete polar opposite of the sport that we see today and has its own network in NBA-TV.
But here’s the difference…even though teams such as the Bad Boys were hard as hell, it would be hard to argue that they played without a certain fear that players now approach the game with. Under the current NBA rule structure, if Dennis Rodman, Rick Mahorn, and Bill Laimbeer played in today’s NBA they would all be looking at six consecutive lifetime bans from the sport and facing 183 million dollars in fines apiece. And as soon as he realized that he would have to submit a neck sample, Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson would probably just retire immediately. They would look a lot like the Tim Duncans of today when it came to that lack of recklessness and passion, and it would be depressing. Not to say that Tim Duncan isn’t a great player, but I’m just using that as an example of a guy who would have been pushed around an awful lot during the 1989-1990 NBA season. And he definitely wouldn’t be able to toss around complaints that other people should be getting technical fouls for things they shouldn’t be getting technical fouls for.
I guess my point here is that sometimes when a league goes to great lengths to protect the integrity of the game, sometimes they end up diluting the product by indirectly removing some of the passion that comes with the competitive nature of the sport to begin with. And that very competitive nature is what defines sport. It’s what makes us tune into the games, and without us fans the sport doesn’t exist. The NBA is a perfect example of this as it has seen a declining popularity amongst a lot of white males in the 18 to 34 demo, whereas during those glory years that I spoke of earlier the league was killing it with pale people in that age range. This is a direct result of the people who really run the way the game is played trying to tidy things up a little too much, and in turn what you get is a bunch of half-assed play from guys who don’t want $35,000 fines left and right.
What I’m trying to say is, I want my old NBA back.