The NBA Playoffs began April 19, but the postseason could be better if the NBA learned a little from the NHL. It’s time the NBA restored the physicality with which basketball is meant to be played.
Last week, ESPN aired “Bad Boys,” a documentary depicting the 1989 and 1990 Detroit Pistons championship teams that strong-armed and bullied their way to two consecutive titles — all in an era when NBA Hall of Famers Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan thrived.
Not only was “Bad Boys” a glimpse into the chemistry of a championship team, but it was also an illustration of the gritty nature of basketball’s backbone. This game used to be played with an intensity that saw knockout picks, aggressive collisions and takedowns between defender and dunker, and fights when this competitiveness spilled out of control. The Pistons even had the “Jordan Rules,” where they didn’t allow Jordan any points in the paint without a foul — that’s basketball.
Basketball shouldn’t have YouTube montages of its best player, LeBron James, repeatedly overreacting to contact in hopes of drawing a foul or even having to have lengthy discussions on how to get flopping out of the game, as ex-NBA Commissioner David Stern deemed necessary last year. This sport has gotten away from an aspect that made it great: toughness.
It’s much easier to question professional athletes’ toughness from behind my laptop when I’m not the one suiting up with those skyscrapers. But it’s true: The NBA has become an egomaniac league, where superstars run the game. Just watch James hold his hands up in shock when an official makes a foul call against him.
Increased physical play could encourage more fluid, possessive and beautiful basketball offense because superstars would be less inclined to drive the lane on almost every play.
I understand there’s considerable money involved in basketball and sports nowadays. Nike, McDonald’s and the corporate franchises that pay millions in incentives to these professional players certainly don’t want players like LeBron throwing haymakers or taking hard fouls for injury’s sake and, of course, for the brand.
But basketball at its core is a backyard pickup sport with scabs and bruises. Except in rare circumstances, those injuries are essentially the worst of basketball’s damages. I’m not encouraging additional brain trauma in the sport, like I would be if I were encouraging more physical play in football. Basketball by its rules is a non-contact sport, but it should change to encourage a little more contact.
The fans will love it, and certainly the hard-bodied athletes can handle it. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, I know this is your first year, but we can do something here and change the sport for the better. Let the athletes play more aggressively.