I have no issue with basketball itself. I used to play regularly before I found out I lack some of the key abilities to be even a satisfactory player.
But I do know a lot about the game—and this is why it pains me so much to see a league that used to be running neck and neck with the NFL produce such a shoddy product.
The sport itself is not flawed. There is nearly nothing to complain about at the college level. The kids give everything they have for their schools whenever they step on the floor—and that, and I suppose gambling, makes March Madness the second-most watched playoffs in America.
In college basketball, the arts of team defense, moving without the ball, playing hard for 40 minutes, and intense fan support are not lost at all. But in the pros, these things died long ago.
I simply don’t get it. No sport that I can think of changes so much from the amateur to the professional ranks.
If you were to switch from an NCAA game to an NBA contest, the separation would astound you. I’m sure some of you have experienced this—it's truly disappointing to see.
For starters, you can hear all the high-top squeaks in the pros, because a) there are fewer fans at most games; and b) they don't care about the game for at least 36 minutes.
Say you’re watching a Duke-Wake Forest game on ESPN and you switch over to a Cavs-Heat game on TNT. Everything calms down.
On ESPN, you’ve got Dickie V revving up the Cameron Crazies, who are standing and roaring for an entire game, even through TV timeouts.
In Cleveland, meanwhile, Marv Albert announces a LeBron James three-pointer for which fans remain seated and clap politely—opera-style.
And then there's the energy on the court. Some NBA players, like Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum, are younger than a lot of NCAA upperclassmen. But as the NBA apparently banned enthusiasm from its contests, those players must wait until they get home and turn on the Xbox to truly exude passion for the game.
Don't get me wrong—I'm not saying every player in the league has had the passion for the game sucked out of him. But upon observation, most players don't appear to have their hearts and souls invested in their jobs.
The Tim Duncan's of the world are not the norm. The Stephon Marbury's are. It must be a surreal scene when a rookie celebrates like a kid when he makes a crunch-time play. I wonder if his teammates mock him for acting immature and haze him in practice.
Man, I didn't even think about practices—I'm sure those are filled with energy.
Worst of all is the defense at the pro level. In the NBA, I’m convinced having more than two men play defense per possession is outlawed. When there are eight to 10 men rotating into games, how can quality defense be so taboo? How could they be so tired from standing around and jumping occasionally?
There are some great players in the NBA, but the reason so many guys can put up 40 and 50 points a night is that they're allowed to take jumpers with no one within five feet or them, or are sometimes permitted to drive to the basket with no defender attempting to intervene.
There's no chance in hell Kobe Bryant could’ve dropped 81 on anyone who played competent defense.
To NBA fans: Say you want, but how can you defend a sport where hustle and defense are the exception, not the rule?
It’s not five-on-five in the NBA. Instead, five one-on-one games take place, with the onlookers disinterested and scattered around the perimeter. I feel bad for players who are actually defensive specialists, like Ben Wallace or Bruce Bowen. Of course they could’ve earned the title “specialist” for simply choosing to play defense.
In other sports, failure to man up and do all aspects of your job will get you ridiculed. Anytime Randy Moss fails to block on a sweep to the other side of the field, an announcer lambastes him for not giving his all for the team.
So why don’t NBA announcers go off when Ray Allen plays eight feet off the ball and lets his man fire a trey whenever he likes?
Because that's the new norm in the NBA: an entire league of prima donna wide receivers who won’t block.
The immortal Skip Bayless said recently that if given a choice, he would rather watch a regular-season NBA game than a March Madness clash.
If that doesn't say how sorry this league is, I don't know what does. Skip has said some ridiculous things over the years, but this was by far the worst.
I, and any other sports fan who enjoys action and energy, would rather watch a December college basketball game than a first-round NBA playoff game.
And I'd probably rather watch She's All That in its entirety than sit through an entire meaningless January pro game.
People can say that college basketball doesn't mean anything until March, but I'll take effort and determination over uninspiring arrogance any day of my life. It's no mystery why Team USA is no longer dominant. Other top teams around the world base their play on ball movement, precision, and defense. Now that they've caught up to America in terms of skill, sheer athleticism alone won't overcome lazy, selfish play .
Given the current state the American game, it would be very surprising to see a gold medal wrapped around any of our elite players' necks anytime soon.