Friday , May , 09 , 2008 Christopher Sells

Has the NBA Gone Soft?

Has the NBA Gone Soft?

This is a special feature from guest blogger Christopher Sells.

According to many, including a pretty good number of former NBA players, the league has gone soft. Players today are accused of not being tough and shying away from the contact that made basketball what it was in the late 80s and in the 90s.

The NBA used to have enforcers. It wasn’t stated that these guys were on the roster just to muscle guys around, but it wasn’t said that they weren’t. You knew that if you were messing with Isiah Thomas, James Edwards, Bill Laimbeer and John Salley would be out to greet you shortly. You knew that if you drove the lane on the Knicks that Charles Oakley would be there to help reacquaint you with the floor. It was just the way it was. Playoff basketball was a different story altogether. You hear commentators and analysts referring to “good, hard playoff fouls” on TV now, but things are tame compared to what they used to be.

By my count, there have been 14 flagrant foul calls in this year’s playoffs. We’re midway through the second round, before the games really start to ramp up in importance, and referees are making it very clear that if you want to foul someone, you’d better be nice about it.

 Sam Cassell spoke up earlier this week after he picked up a flagrant foul against LeBron James.
 "It’s just different right now," he said. "They gave me a flagrant-1 foul, and no way in the world was it a flagrant-1 foul. I’m going to call [NBA vice president] Stu [Jackson] and see what he thinks about that. That’s not a flagrant-1 foul at all. Back in the day, a flagrant-1 was bloodshed."
The thoughts of many are that the league is protecting its superstar players, namely James. He has drawn three or four flagrant fouls this postseason, a couple of which could be viewed as very questionable. Cassell evoked the name of the GOAT while talking about how the league used to be tougher.

"I know Michael Jordan is sitting at home right now pouting because they didn’t protect him,” he said. “There wasn’t no bigger star than him, and he took some banging. But he got through it. That’s why he got considered the best player to pick up a basketball."

Cassell is right. The Pistons did things to Jordan and his teammates that would get you arrested if you did them on the street. And the Bulls would just fight right back.

But apparently this sort of so-called “thuggery” was what turned people off of basketball in the 90s. Stern and his new NBA don’t allow such things. Violators will be suspended and fined. Heck, you can’t even touch someone on the perimeter anymore without a foul being called. But scoring is up and attendance is at its highest. If you listen to what the league is feeding the public, the on-court product has never been better.

Maybe not, but it has also never been this soft.

[For evidence of what Chris is talking about, check out the clip below and see if you don’t agree that things were different back in the day. – CYE]