June 13, 2011
The state of basketball is dire for an assortment of reasons, but none more so frequently than having “superstars” that do not perform. Basketball players are being drafted by general managers consistently based solely on their potential, instead of their accomplishments, and it is hurting the final product that the NBA puts on the floor on a nightly basis. At first glance, one might think that GM’s are making the right decision because nearly all the current stars in the National Basketball Association either left college as underclassmen or skipped college altogether. Players like Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, or LeBron James literally are the best players in basketball today and none of them attended a day of college. The superstars of the last decade skipped college too. Guys like Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, and Kevin Garnett were clearly the best guys of their generation without going to college and men like Elton Brand, Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, and Derrick Rose all left prior to their junior year. But at a closer inspection, it is apparent that today’s superstars are missing something that the other generations had, toughness. For every Iverson, who was all grit and determination, there were plenty of McGrady’s and Vince Carter’s, who were extremely talented, but lacked the heart to finish games. And, even Allen Iverson was flawed as a basketball player because he lacked a strong work ethic. The game today is less physical than it was just ten years ago, even though the players are significantly stronger and faster. And the players that represent the NBA today, do not have the mental toughness or technical skill that they need to excel in the game of basketball in the same capacity that athletes did during the 80′ sand 90′s.
Though they are more athletic, players in the National Basketball Association are not as skilled as they were in previous years. The fine art of shooting left the NBA almost fifteen years ago. Dirk Nowitzki is celebrated today as one of the best shooters of all-time, and he may be one of them, but had his career been ten to twenty years earlier he would would have had worthy contemporaries with whom to challenge and compare him. Chris Mullin and Larry Bird regularly averaged 23-27 points per game on a high volume of jump shots and are both members of the 50-40-90 club. Their careers overlapped, so comparisons were made between them. They played in an era when every team had a pure shooter and the better teams had two to three. Very few pure shooters are playing currently. In fact there are probably less than ten of them in the NBA now. Consequently, both team averages and scoring is consistently lower than now than it was in the eighties and early nineties. Today, athletes rely on out-jumping or bullying other players instead of learning the intricacies of offense, like when to slip a pick or when to cut backdoor. Basketball suffers because the NBA drafts kids that are not as technically sound in shooting the basketball and understanding the game as they once were.
But, athletes in today’s NBA also lack the experience that playing basketball at an intermediate level gives. Players miss out on the hard fought battles in college programs because the talent leaves earlier every year. More and more players are leaving college completely unpolished. Plus, they do not develop the toughness that is necessary to dominate at the next level, so even the most talented players never reach their full potential. LeBron James is the most talented individual that has ever played in the NBA. He has won two NBA MVP’s and has been to two Finals, one in which he was swept, and the other which he now trails 3-2 to Dallas. He jumped to the NBA straight from high school and became a superstar. Since, high school basketball more closely resembles professional basketball, he excelled at first. But, know people are starting to doubt how great he really is. College may have helped him. College basketball may stunt some of the better high school players’ development initially, but with good competition, they are ultimately better players upon entering the league than they would have been without attending some college campus. College life is difficult without having to go to numerous regimented practices during the week, traveling to opposing courts, and playing games. Brandon Roy benefited from 4 years of college. He was a talented but an inconsistent athlete through his first three years, yet flourished in his senior year. He carried his team that year because he had to do so, in order for them to be competitive. He was given responsibility on a level where he could make mistakes and still be effective, so he could learn to minimize careless plays against lesser competition. Once players enter the league their margin for error diminishes greatly, and if they do not produce (like Robert Swift, Kwame Brown, or Ndudi Ebi), then they lose their opportunity to play in the NBA quickly. Players are taught self-discipline through the game of basketball itself in college, but also through having to be self-sufficient while caring for their studies and training for the sport that they love. In the 80′s and 90′s, college basketball teams were loaded with NBA talent, so rookies in the NBA entered the league with the experiences of a 3 year veteran. Athletes benefited from playing against higher levels of competition. Wesley Mathews, a current third year player, is proof of this point. He played for 4 years in the Big East against multiple NBA wings and big men. He also faced the best competition that college has to offer in the NCAA tournament for 3 of his 4 years. When he arrived at the NBA, he was ready to compete and was made a starter as a rookie. Being at a college that played in a competitive conference that was full of NBA talent made him ready for the next level. He came into the NBA as a mature adult, rather than an over-paid kid.
Today’s NBA players are brats. They have been coddled by everyone that is around them since they showed a little promise in middle school with random displays of their skill and athleticism. The people in their lives cater to their every whim and have been doing so since their childhood. No one tells them “no.” Once the millions of dollars of a NBA contract is added to the equation, any chance of normalcy and truth reaching them is gone. These players whine when they do not get their way on the court, because they have always gotten their way in real life. They expect calls to be handed to them in games, and expect the world to be handed to them in reality. They are spoiled and evidence of this is slowly spilling out onto the basketball court during televised games. Fans are being to see the flaws of these players. Would Michael Jordan have ever quit on his team for any reason? No, because Jordan wanted to win at any cost. His passion showed through his play on the court and the emotion with which he played. Kobe Bryant stopped playing hard to prove a point to the Lakers. He was being questioned for taking too many shots during the course of a series, so he stopped shooting in Game 7. He continuously passed on open shots to force his teammates to shoot and show management that he was right to keep shooting. Would Magic Johnson or Larry Bird let problems at home stop them from performing in the NBA Playoffs? LeBron has had another bad series after allegations of misconduct by a loved one. He visibly quit on the Cleveland Cavaliers after allegations that a teammate slept with his mother. With his new team, the Miami Heat, presently in the NBA Finals, he has had two consecutive poor games amidst rumors that the mother of his children cheated with another NBA player. Though these things would be difficult for any normal person, professional athletes in the past used their sport as their one place of solace. It was the one place where they could ignore their problems and just exist. Professional athletes are getting softer every year.
Players need to mature before they enter the league. They are given a life-changing amount of money before they have the mental capacity to handle it. Even if it means instating a rule similar to the baseball rule that allows high school players to jump to the pros, but makes all players that attend college stay there until their junior year, then college and NBA basketball need to make the necessary adjustments to strengthen the game. Basketball is one of three most celebrated and well-loved games in America, and if they do not protect it from spoiled athletes, then they may lose their fan base.