Devil’s Advocate: The NBA isn’t soft, it’s smart

In Devil's Advocate, Opinion
(Hannah Miller / Daily Titan)

Saying the NBA is soft because players can no longer pummel each other with impunity is the thinking of short-sighted neanderthals unaware of realities around the league.

Sure, less talented players are no longer allowed to shove and smack their skilled peers to the floor for the simple sin of being better than them, but is that really a bad thing?

“One of the negative things about that style of basketball is you’re using that to replace any type of skill,” said Mark Medina, who covers the Golden State Warriors for The Mercury News. “To make blanket statements on anything is hard, and I think it varies player to player, but overall I think that would be an exaggeration (to say the league is soft).”

The rules the league added in the mid-2000s to reduce hand checking and overall physicality changed the game, but it’s easy to argue those changes are for the better.

People who whine and grouse about the lack of physical play in the game are simply ignorant. These changes were implemented to reduce injuries, open up scoring and reward players for actually being good at basketball, instead of having players break the rules to prevent an opponent utilizing actual skills to get buckets.

“The leagues (aren’t) soft, it has gotten smarter. The old rules of bully ball were done away with to improve the flow of the game,” said Mo Dakil, a former NBA video coordinator for the LA Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Australian Men’s Basketball team for the 2010-2012 Olympics. “The game is not meant to be a collision sport like football.”

When they don’t center on the lack of hard fouls in today’s game, complaints about the NBA being soft often center on players being too collegial with each other. Whether it be the shock and horror inspired by players dapping up their opponents before games (gasp!) or the fainting spells inspired by young millionaires wanting to spend time together in the offseason, some people just can’t handle a little bit of sportsmanship.

But while it may be true that the age of social media and Amateur Athletic Union has made players’ behavior more sportsmanlike towards each other in general, nothing has changed as far as how hard they compete against one another on the court, other than the league wisely saving them from pummeling each other into oblivion.

“Complaints about NBA players being too friendly is just silly,” said Dakil, citing the Cleveland Cavaliers walking over a dummy designed to look like the corpse of Warriors guard Stephen Curry at the LeBron James’ Halloween party last season. “The Cavs-Dubs rivalry has been the main story for the league over the last season. Go back and look at the stare down LeBron gave Steph after rejecting his shot in (the NBA Finals). No love was lost.”

The only thing that needs to get lost is the idea that the league has gone soft. Go watch players play defense away from the ball in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s outside of when they foul each other. Then turn on a game and watch what happens to Curry or his teammate, Klay Thompson’s defender when they attempt to chase either player through a maze of pillar-like screens off the ball, all while getting thrown around like a rag doll for their trouble. These guys may have more friends on other teams and display more sportsmanship than before, but soft? Nah.

“I’ve never met a player who took it easy on a friend during (a) game. These guys want to win as much as the guys in the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s,” Dakil said.

Anyone who doesn’t want to take his word for it should just watch a game sometime. If they tune out the overused arguments commonly heard from sports radio shock jocks and former players who are jealous of the money the next generation is making or just looking to increase their own street cred, they’ll find the league is anything but soft.

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