We all seem to miss the good old days.
Back in the day, you could foul guys hard and it wasn’t a national crisis. NBA players were able to settle their differences on the court within the game. Occasionally it would get out of hand, but for the most part everything was handled without things getting too heated. Elbows were thrown at heads to clear out for a rebound and nobody batted an eye… you know… after they ducked out of the way from those human razor blades. Punches could be thrown without needing to bring in dozens of pundits that try to decide just how much of the season a guy should miss.
And most of all, you could clothesline a guy in the middle of the NBA Finals to ensure the other team that there wouldn’t be anything easy allowed for that series. Check out Kevin McHale and Kurt Rambis.
Can you imagine if that happened today? Would they even finish the game? Would Twitter melt down? If this were Ron Artest doing the clotheslining, would we find out the National Guard’s response time that evening?
When we see what happened between Tyler Hansbrough and Dwyane Wade or Udonis Haslem and Tyler Hansbrough or Dexter Pittman and Lance Stephenson in Game 5 between the Pacers and the Heat, a lot of people’s first reaction is to claim these fouls aren’t that bad and that people shouldn’t be complaining about them. It’s a badge of toughness to not think it’s a big deal because “it didn’t use to be this way.”
For some reason, this becomes a war of acceptance between the youth of today who may be conditioned to be outraged by such “excessive” fouls and the elders who think the league and society are going soft. But it’s not really about people being soft or the game being tainted by fragility. What used to happen in the 80s and 90s worked for the 80s and 90s. During the late 70s, they endured the Kermit Washington punch in a time when the NBA was barely a slight fraction as popular as the game is today.
Things used to be called and ruled differently because the business of this league used to be on a much smaller scale.
If you’re wondering why the NBA is so “soft” now when it comes to these kinds of fouls, look no further than the Malice at the Palace. This was our tipping point as an NBA society when things went from being settled on the court to involving thousands of caged patrons. The NBA had to go through a relatively extreme image makeover instantly to show the league wasn’t a bunch of thugs to the eyes of their casual fans and the corporate sponsors that allow so much of the business in the NBA to exist.
The NBA is a billion dollar industry. It is responsible for thousands of jobs, reaching millions and even billions of people around the globe. For them to protect their investment isn’t a matter of being soft or being fragile in any way. It’s simply protecting their product for consumption by those who can be easily swayed away from watching it. To pretend the NBA is anything other than a business just seems naïve. Sports haven’t been primarily about competition since they started charging admission to sporting events. It’s treated like a business and it absolutely should be.
It’s true that 25 years ago, the NBA probably wouldn’t have even had a reaction to what happened during Game 5 of the Heat-Pacers series. It wouldn’t have registered. But is that necessarily a good thing? Is that even relevant to what goes on now?
You may not like the level of physicality allowed in today’s NBA but that doesn’t mean the old way is righteous. It just means it’s the old way. The NBA is protecting its future with the way it is policing the present. To worry about how things were in the past would just be flagrant.