Like most any other sport out there, the NBA game is constantly evolving, most of the time for the better, but sometimes there are subtle little changes to the game that aren't so good for it. Then there are times when the changes are bigger and more noticeable, and that's when it's time to get concerned.
Without sounding like a grizzled, bent-backed old man looking to shoo every waddling toddler off his lawn, some of the changes the league has undergone in the past handful of years have been dangerous to the core of the game. Others have done little to threaten the game itself, but have been a nuisance nonetheless.
There's no reason to be against progress, even if it is just for the sake of progress, but once things turn into more than just progress, into players taking advantage of situations or owners exploiting players beyond what they've done in the past, some of the game's changes are detrimental to the game itself.
Some things are extremely basic and bear no effect whatsoever on a person turning on their television and watching a game, but others are dangerous to the league and could do some real damage.
I'm not here to yearn for the old Leave it to Beaver days of the NBA, I just want to stop a few very real threats to what the game has been for the past few decades.
The NBA game has the luxury of coming during the winter and spring months, leaving the summers blissfully open for David Stern and all his employees.
That's been one of the main selling points on pumping the Olympics full of NBA players, leading to basketball being the most exciting and entertaining Summer Olympics sport.
However, Stern made headlines during the London games, suggesting that FIBA adopt the Soccer view on the Olympics and turn it into a 23-and-under competition, rather than a showcase of the biggest stars.
The argument for making the Olympics 23-and-under is fair; players can get injured leading to owners losing on an investment with no return; it showcases younger talent, opens up competition.
However, when competition is opened up forcefully, the reward is less sweet. There's a reason the World Cup is a bigger deal than the Olympic tournament for soccer, and why Olympic baseball was never as popular as even the World Baseball Classic: fans want to see the best players in the world competing if it's a worldwide competition.
Can we just end this right now? The arguments for contraction of NBA teams is so razor-thin that if you throw the lot of them together and encase them in a bit of plastic you could shave with them.
The argument for contraction is based off the notion that there isn't as much talent in the NBA today compared to past eras, and that has led to a diluted game in which a few select teams have a chance of winning a title and the rest are just fodder. This leads to unprofitable franchises and a weaker league.
I look at it this way: 30 years ago the league housed 23 teams with the Dallas Mavericks the newest expansion team added to the table. This was in a time when the U.S. population was 80 million less than what it is today.
Add 80 million people to the potential talent pool back in 1982 and then throw in the rest of the world when you consider the fact that international involvement in the NBA didn't really take off until the 90s and beyond, and you're telling me that in those hundreds of millions of extra people, we can't field seven more NBA teams?
The real problem with the NBA is that it went through a period of times when they would allow an incompetent person with a lot of money to buy a basketball team (looking at you, Maloofs).
Mismanagement, poor placement of teams and unsuccessful owners is why the league is losing money, not because there are too many teams.
The league has always dealt with flopping, and it's really hard to say whether it's more prevalent than it was 20 years ago or if we're more aware of it because we can go online and see every single flop from the night before on YouTube. My money's on a bit of a middle ground.
Things are never as bad as they seem now that we are able to know about almost everything that's going on, but that doesn't make this any less of a problem.
Flopping is one thing, it slows the pace of the game, it's dangerous for the player who isn't wantonly throwing his body around the court and it's frustrating, but complaining is another story altogether.
When you get players who toss their hands up on every call, who stare down referees instead of getting back and playing defense, it creates a very real image issue.
Many players today are looked at by fans of past eras of basketball as crybabies, and that's used as a reason to disregard the game and the extreme strides that have been made over the years.
Whether there is a punishment to hand down to floppers and complainers or not, it's something the league is going to have to deal with in the next few years in order to save face.
This isn't something I'm just going to point at LeBron James and start throwing blame at him for, but it is a trend that he seems to have started after deciding to spurn the dunk contest year after year.
What was once the marquee competition in sports for desire to take down an opponent one-on-one disguised as friendly competition, the dunk contest has devolved into a series of gimmicks, shouting commentators, lesser players and fans voting.
On a quick aside, can we just remove fan voting from everything sports related? Fans, as a whole, are inherently dumb and while it's always seemingly arbitrary the things they vote for, it affects the way we look back at the game's history when a player wins a contest because fans voted. Do you really think Dominique Wilkins would have beaten Michael Jordan in 1985 if fans were voting for the winner?
Anyway, I digress. The real problem at hand is that we've yet to see LeBron, Dwyane Wade (he's probably off the table at this point), Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose or John Wall throw down on All-Star Weekend, and why? It seems like it's become a contest that is more sizzle than steak, and winning it doesn't mean much compared to what losing it would mean.
There's got to be some way to get these guys into the dunk contest, and if not, it might be time to get rid of the thing altogether.
It's come to a point in the NBA where referees have far too much control over the game. I'm not one to argue that they make too many bad calls or that there are company men out there on the floor, it's just that the rules have evolved to a point where they have to make a lot more calls.
Of the most egregious, technical and flagrant fouls stand out more than others. When a referee is able to subjectively throw a "T" at a player who looks at him funny, then things have gotten out of hand. It's good to have that in a ref's back pocket, but to let him use it so often is dangerous.
Perhaps a review board for how referees use their technical fouls would be beneficial to the league, handing down judgment and reprimanding officials who hand out technical fouls too liberally.
However, flagrant fouls are the most maddeningly inconsistent part of the game. Rather than being used as a tool to make the game safer, it's become another measurement of force for a referee to use to control the game.
My suggestion for cutting down the number of flagrant fouls given out is pretty simple; eliminate the use of the Flagrant One and just call a flagrant foul when something so dirty has happened that a player needs to be kicked out of the game.
Otherwise, you've got a special foul that's called inconsistently, but often enough to disrupt the pace of games.
Creativity is great for the league, but does the league, or each team at the very least, not have a few guys with the stomach to speak up when something is just frustratingly ugly?
That's what seems like should have been in place before the Spurs put out these D-League uniforms that they plan on using as their alternate jerseys this year.
This isn't the only case of creativity billowing out of control. You've got the Cleveland Cavaliers court, which besides being home to the most enormous center court logo in the NBA, has a key that is painted all one color, which is surprisingly hard to look at for long periods of time and easy to lose track of the basketball.
I'm all for embarrassing jerseys (I love the old cartoonish logos of the '90s) and ridiculous court styles, but cases are popping up, like in these, where the creativity amounts to practice jerseys on NBA players during games and a game that is more difficult to keep track of.
For basketball reasons, I'll keep this short and to the point; otherwise, you could end up reading a rant that stretches a few thousand words.
Basically, David Stern has too much say in the day-to-day operations of the league. I'm not one of those people who are going to stand up and call him a bad commissioner, because he isn't, just take a look at what the man has built over the past three decades.
Instead, I'm one to think he's going too far with policing the little things while he has started to ignore the bigger things.
When the league started to mandate what a player can wear on the sidelines, where he can be on the court if he's not in the game, how rough a foul can be before it's considered flagrant and what a player can say about referees is when Stern overreached his position.
Many of the moves Stern has made in the past decade have been reactionary, whether it be a reaction to the melee in the Palace at Auburn Hills or the exodus of superstars from their old, small-market franchises to team up together in big cities, Stern has had a reactionary policy-making style.
He used to be a preventative man, making rules before things got bad, but it seems like he's slower to the draw and easier to get past these days.
Basically, it seems like it may be time for Stern to pack up his office and make for a nice retirement mansion down in Florida.
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