By: Joe LaSala
While watching the first game of the 1 vs 8 series between the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics, I was pleasantly brought back to my childhood. I grew up a New York Knicks fan in the 1990’s. Despite them never actually winning a championship, they gave a young fan plenty of great moments. Such as, Larry Johnson’s 4 point play, Allan Houston’s runner to beat the Heat when they Knicks were an 8 seed and the Heat were a 1, the two runs to the Finals in 1994 and 1999, and even the multiple scuffles they got into. All of these and more gave a young fan more than enough fond memories.
I love the NBA, and the skill level today is as good, if not better, then it has ever been. However, the most important thing I was reminded of the other night was intensity, an intensity that the NBA lost a long time ago. Those Knicks teams of the 1990’s were intense and, more importantly, had intense rivalries. It didn’t matter who you were a fan of, at different times, games against the Bulls, Pacers, and Heat were a must see for any NBA fan. They were not friends, they were bitter rivals. Teams were not willing to give up an inch, and an easy basket was almost never had. If you went to the basket there was a good chance that guys like Anthony Mason, Antonio Davis, Alonzo Mourning, Charles Oakley, Dennis Rodman and Dale Davis were going to put you on your ass and make you earn it from the Free Throw line. While I was too young to experience it, the same intensity could be seen with the Bad Boy Pistons, both of the Lakers/Celtics rivalries, the 1970’s Knicks, the 1960’s Celtics, and the list goes on.
Just watch a playoff game from 25 years ago, and you will probably see three fouls that today would have gotten a player ejected, but, back then, was just protecting the lane. A perfect example is the “hand check foul,” a rule that was solely put into place because the NBA wanted more scoring and less hard-nose basketball. Yet, I cannot tell you how many people from my generation, the one before that, and the one before that have simply lost interest in basketball. This new buddy buddy league just isn’t as appealing as the old intense one was.
In my opinion, the NBA (who to their credit still has a very high level of popularity) would be so much better off if they were not so touchy with the fouls. This would result in a little more resentment between teams, which would again fuel the intensity. I know that sounds harsh, but that intensity is one of the main reasons the league was so amazing.
Their popularity remains high because young people love the NBA. However, you cannot tell me that the younger generation would lose interest in the league if it, once again, was as intense as it used to be. The only result would be, the younger generation being just as interested, if not more, and the older generations being drawn back. I obviously cannot tell you for certain that loosening the foul calls would directly result in the NBA regaining those amazing and intense rivalries that they used to have. Still, I would want them to try anything to get there. It isn’t a coincidence that Yankees/Red Sox, Lakers/Celtics, Bruins/Canadiens, Giants/Cowboys etc… were always the most exciting to watch. The teams did not like each other, and neither did the fans.
I think the NBA is still great. The level of talent today is unparalleled. There are amazingly skilled players that show us astounding, god-like skills on a game-to-game basis. And if they can somehow combine that skill with the crazy intense rivalry that use to make grandparents and children alike tune in, then we will have a product that could be the greatest show in the world.