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NBA lost its charm for one sports fan

MN Sports Blog on November 6, 2015 - 11:26 pm in Reflections & Columns

By Bruce Strand, 2002

The NBA doesn’t need any advice from me, I admit that. The NBA’s top stars pocket 10 to 20 million bucks a year and last week’s Nielsen ratings had three Lakers-Kings games in the top eight shows for the week, so the league will apparently do just fine without one small-town scribe on board.

But if David Stern or anyone else were curious why an otherwise avid sports fan has little interest in their product … well, I’ve been wondering about that myself lately. I enjoy basketball immensely at the high school level. I swooned over the Gopher women last winter. And back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the NBA of Jerry West, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Dave Cowens was intriguing to me, too. So how come now I can’t watch the world’s greatest basketball players for more than 60 seconds \b efore grabbing the remote in search of Xena or Just Shoot Me or O’Reilly, anything but the NBA?

One reason dawned on me as I glanced at the screen for a few minutes during the Kings-Lakers series. The appearance of the players these days makes me cringe. All those bawdy tattoos. All those three-day growths. This sloppy, baggy uniforms. Most of the league looks like they just woke up from a three-day drunk.

OK, tattoos are a generational thing, and youngsters in their teens, 20’s and 30’s think they’re cool, for some reason, but in my generation, the only people I remember splattered with drawings were foul-mouthed drill sergeants and career-criminal bikers. It’s uncomfortable to see the uniforms that were once occupied with trim and simple elegance by the likes of Oscar Robertson and Julius Erving now billowing on human billboards like Mike Bibby, Shaq and Allen Iverson.

And what is this game they’re playing now? There used to be rules about contact in basketball. The pro game now is more akin to rugby or wrestling. Which brings up my next complaint: that a guy can be the most important player in the league with only two apparent skills, shoving and dunking. Granted, Shaquille O’Neal is the most prodigious physical specimen in sports, but how hard is it to play basketball when you’re 7-1 and 350 pounds and all you have to do is push guys out of the way and dunk, and the refs let you do it? Shaq couldn’t make a 10-foot jumper to save his life and his free throw form would embarrass a Brownie scout, but his presence on the blocks makes the Lakers unbeatable in the playoffs.

The NBA has the best collection of athletes anywhere on the planet, a supremely select group chosen because they are lavishly gifted in every athletic trait: size, strength, speed, grace, tenacity, durability. But the players seem to have grown too big and explosive for the playing field. If basketball were being invented now, if Dr. Naismith were drawing the rules with 6-foot-6 guards and 7-foot, 300-pound centers milling around the gym, he’d surely put the basket 11 or 12 fee up and make the floor bigger, too.

And that’s just one more reason why at least one sports fan — again, one rube the NBA doesn’t need and would no doubt laugh at his complains — gleans far more basketball enjoyment watching Bethlehem Academy dueling Waterville-Elysian-Morristown or Lindsey Whalen propelling the Gophers.

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