It’s been 13 long years since those days, when Allan Houston, Charlie Ward, Larry Johnson, Latrell Sprewell, Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, P.J. Brown and Dan Majerle were a part of the NBA conversation. Despite their at-your-throat mentality, the New York Knicks and Miami Heat of the late 90s had a familiar compatibility. Or maybe it was just the style of play as a whole – drive to the basket, enjoy a forearm shiver to the face.
13 years. Basketball has changed in that time, but so has sport. Words like brand and value and business are thrown around with impunity, conveniently explaining away the clashes of moneymaking and championships. We’ll never get back that basketball of old, in which P.J. Brown would put you through a wall if you even looked at Tim Hardaway the wrong way. But you don’t eliminate hand-checking and gratuitously hand out technical fouls for the “integrity of the game.” This is the platform we’ve been spoon-fed, that, wouldn’t you rather see the best players on the court all the time? Well, yes. But no, too.
The Miami Heat and New York Knicks didn’t have any superstars. Alonzo Mourning was very good, Patrick Ewing was on the tail end of his career, and the rest of the rosters were sprinkled with very good to borderline all-star players at best. This isn’t a denouncing of the big three style of play we’ve grown accustomed to, or a lament. The game has changed for us, in theory, that the nonsense of fights and uncivilized brutes exhibiting male-ness isn’t what basketball is about. Because we, the fans, like basketball, they say.
It’s progress for the sake of progress, a step forward because, where else will we go? The rules are always changing and adapting and refocusing to adjust to the era. A three-point line, a shot clock, hand-check elimination, and more. Not that any of these changes are bad, per se, but don’t confuse progress with change. Because change is all we’ve really done over these past 13 years. In the Game 5 ended by Allan Houston’s floater, the score was 78-77. It was bruising, unfeeling and remorseless. The game was low scoring, ugly and hardly resembled basketball in the purest sense of the word. It was an emotional battle of wills. Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose can recklessly fly through the air without reprisal today, but only 12 years ago, Charles Oakley would have put them both in the hospital and made them re-think their defenseless assaults on the rim.
Instead of protecting the bucket at all costs, it’s “How do I draw a charge?” “How do I appear to have my hands straight up and avoid contact?” That toll booth is gone, that price to pay for entering the paint. The offensive player has been given the unmitigated advantage, and with it has gone the precious nature of a two-point field goal. But this is the NBA now, for better or for worse, and we just have to adjust. But that doesn’t mean we can’t dream of the past every once in a while.
Do you miss the way the game used to be played?
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