The NBA is in its prime. The Magic, MJ, Bird, Bad Boys era was incredible. But right now, the NBA is just as good and the proof lives online.
In general, can we all wrap our heads around the notion that things are not better right now than they will be? I know it’s popular to prep for doomsday, but that’s just one possible scenario. Can we try to band together to project a positive outlook regarding the innovations and changes taking place throughout our lifetime and beyond? The Earth might be a literal garbage dump, but it’s not too late to turn it around. Instead of lamenting about the so-called “Good Ol’ Days” of the way things used to be during “simpler times,” let’s realize now that life evolves. So when this generation of millennials ages, we don’t sound bitter and shortsighted. Just like Oscar Robertson talking about Steph Curry:
“He’s shot well because of what’s going on in basketball today, In basketball today, it’s almost like if you can dunk or make a three-point shot, you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread.
There have been some great shooters in the past. But here again, when I played years ago, if you shot a shot outside and hit it, the next time I’m going to be up on top of you. I’m going to pressure you with three-quarters, half-court defense. But now they don’t do that. These coaches do not understand the game of basketball, as far as I’m concerned.”
Barring a dystopian future (which is plausible, especially if Trump 2016 happens…), life could and should get better. All aspects can progress positively: technology, convenience, our attitudes toward improving the environment, our treatment of one another, quality of entertainment to distract us in case none of the above comes to fruition. When platforms like Vine and Snapchat dropped, I was very Oscar Robertson about them. Didn’t get it. Didn’t care. Bitched about them. Felt old and simply dismissed them. A few years removed from their inception, I can admit I was wrong. Vine has made my favorite sport, basketball even more fun and accessible.
However, the old guard of the NBA loves to bitch about the state of the game. Lots of NBA Hall of Famers complain about the lack of defense due to rule changes and the focus on the league’s public relations making the game and players “soft.” Charles Barkley and Shaq, two of the game’s most entertaining players, both on and off the court, are also culprits of being such old timers who whine about “how much better the game used to be…” The game done changed. Just get on (hover)board so you don’t seem so dated.
I’m not saying The Diesel and Round Mound Of Rebound need to become the equivalent of a middle-aged white dude named Noah in a backwards hat and board shorts, calling everyone “Bruh,” attending Coachella year after year as he suppresses stories of Woodstock ’94 so he seems relevant. Noah’s old school buddy Dean still wears a 2012 AC/DC tour shirt unironically regaling anyone who will stand close to him about the “hey-day of culture” peppering in critiques of everyone having their nose in their phone, how computers ruined music and how rappers only rap about money. That’s what Shaq and Charles sound like when they bitch about guards not getting nearly paralyzed when they drive the lane and the league lacking “True Centers.” Hopefully one day people will be able update the way they operate easier than downloading the latest version iOS.
Fuck ESPN, they’ve jumped the shark (a term that itself has jumped the shark). ESPN is totally corporate and thus becoming obsolete, but it’s not going anywhere for the time being. Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Reddit and Podcasts give everyone instant highlights, genuine coverage and access to all our favorite players, coaches, teams, plays and behind-the-scenes discourse. Social media, more than rule changes, player safety protections and PR concerns have revolutionized sports overall. With the NBA being the biggest benefactor. Go ahead, bemoan “everyone being on their phones all the time” instead of engaging in the moment, but maybe you’re the one who isn’t engaging in this moment. You can cry about how “defense just isn’t the same” so players like Steph Curry wouldn’t be able to light it up in the past the way he does now.
Shout it from the rooftops how no one talks to each other face to face anymore. No one will hear you because you don’t have a relevant outlet/wifi signal. Regardless of whether you’re right or wrong, you’re wrong because your time’s expired. Society changes. Sports evolve with it. Games are watched in their most important 6-12 second increments on people’s phones without having to hear Stuart Scott-knockoffs make bad puns and bastardize current slang. Isn’t it convenient that there just isn’t that much footage of what Oscar Robertson is talking about is supposedly missing from the present day game of basketball? Cool grainy highlight of the Big O literally running circles around a bunch of dudes who would get cut from teams in China if they played today.
Nevertheless, coverage of every aspect of life has changed, it’s not so easy to hide mistakes, for better or worse. The way the NBA is played and consumed now is not perfect. Nothing is. The implications on our own personal entertainment being a distraction from the miserable, violent, unjust (and hopefully temporary) present state of the world has its pros and cons: the speed and efficiency of how we consume Steph’s latest 35 foot swish or Kristap Porzingis’s putback slam happen so rapidly we don’t get a break from our timelines of watching to think or do anything about who and what are hurting the world. That’s a cause I wouldn’t mind hearing retired sports legends speak out about. Ya know, those who lived through protests that brought about change.
They’d rather criticize DeAndre Jordan’s free throw percentage. Bill Russell gets overlooked for his on court talent because he absolutely annihilated inferior competition, but his contribution to activism gets overlooked along with it. Bill Russell dwarfed his competition the way social media is dwarfing Sportscenter. However, he didn’t have as much of a platform to spread his message to fix inequality during an era when people were more proactive about causes that meant something to them. Yeah, LeBron and some other players wore that t-shirt because their publicists told them to stand with Freddie Gray.
Nobody really remembers or cares because the media cycle revolves too quickly. Today, you don’t like the way cops treat black people. You tweet something self righteously or post something indignant on Facebook and get to feel like you’re part of the solution. You want to try to make a difference today? Your message has to be constant, but ya know, don’t mess up your endorsement deal. There are always drawbacks, holes to be poked in the innovations by those who have lived to witness the change, but not ready to accept it. Sometimes those flaws are very real, but the criticism is hard to take seriously when it’s served upon every stand-out player.
Way back at the beginning of this decade, before Snapchat, LeBron moved from Cleveland to Miami so he could play for a team with his best friends and win. Not a single NBA alumni even remotely encouraged LeBron to do what made him happy. That’s indicative of the difference between the old versus new guard: the old guard doesn’t understand or appreciate millennial’s choice to do what makes us happy.
Say you have a buddy from college, the kind of guy who partied his ass off but still managed to get all A’s. Charismatic, friends with everyone, the kind of guy who could stay up for two days on a bender then go to brunch with your parents and charm their pants off before acing a test he barely studied for. This guy graduates, but moves back to his hometown to work for a notoriously fledgling local business that has potential to turn it around now that he’s there, but has organizational problems that no one man could turn around on his own no matter how focused, talented or committed.
Then one day, this guys gets an offer to be a partner at a hot new start up, run by his college drinking buddies who still party, but are more mature now. The salary is comparable, company HQ is in a cool city with great weather, social life and no income taxes. If you’re this guy, what would you choose? We know what his parents and their friends would think. The older generation loves to glorify their loyalty, the same loyalty that makes them miserable. Romanticize sacrifice, suffering and hard work in the same breath exhaled with carbon monoxide-like sentiments.
That’s why old timers can’t let go of the notion that their way was better. They’re haters. Generally, most people over 47 can’t and won’t wrap their minds around today’s conveniences and innovations in both technology and lifestyle choices. Why? They’re “stuck in their ways,” which is old people code for “refuse to accept the possibility of an easier path.” Too tired out from doing what they didn’t want to have to do most of their lives. Sacrificing joy and satisfaction for “security.” I get it, it’s hard to change once you’re used to a routine, but what if that routine suddenly got way easier and more enjoyable, but just took a litttttttle bit of effort to figure out?
With all this said, when we as a generation hit middle-age, let’s all agree to examine the way things with an open mind. Realizing most things get better, not worse. Or at least let’s pretend to get on board so we don’t age faster than we need to. Being someone like Noah with grey hair and saying shit like “stay woke” while Snapchatting might seem like it’s trying too hard.
Albeit, that’s immensely less sad than not knowing how to text message on your LG Flip Phone as you lament how sports were better when athletes were slower and way more barbaric to each other, when it wasn’t even broadcast live over the medium of terrestrial radio. Maybe the sound bite goes viral, but the person saying it doesn’t even know what that means. “Going Viral,” whether you get it or not, is the most significant way to convey a message today. The How and Why of Going Viral is still puzzling. I’m rocking the White Van’s trying to get everything I do to Go Viral. Damn Daniel! Tomorrow will be different. Get on board or bundle up to suffer through the winter in Cleveland.
The NBA is better now than it’s ever been. I stand by it. NBA basketball might have been better 25-30 years ago, but it didn’t have a constant flow of memes and Vines. Who knows if Steph Curry would be as prolific against MJ, Isiah or John Stockton? I do know this: Spudd Webb would be global phenomenon if Instagram was around in the 80s.
Final Note: I’m doing my best to swallow my own pill and adapt to the future, but the old timer in me still gets ornery observing that anyone under 16 only knows Michael Jordan for crying and his shoes, they think Kobe is better then him, the OJ Simpson Murder Trial is a comedy series on FXX and everyone who retired from pro sports before 2000 is a whiny old fart. Instead of diminishing today’s stars, we all should just focus on ourselves.
Post Script: can Turner Broadcast turn TNT into an all sports network? ESPN is like a dumpster behind a Trading Card shop: there might be a treasure in there, but contains mostly flammable garbage. Fox Sports 1 is that dumpster on fire. How awesome would a Turner Sports channel be headlined by Charles, Shaq, Ernie and Kenny The Jet?
I’m just writing it here so when it happens I can claim to be ahead of my time.