Human beings all have some level of inherent narcissism in that we all think we are correct, we all believe that we know best and our way is the right one. It’s not a particularly admirable trait to constantly be seeking this form of self-validation but it’s one that is just a part of life. Don’t believe me?
Ask an elderly person if things were better off “in their day.” You know, that bygone age when gas was cheaper, America freer, success harder to attain and worth so much more? We have it easy nowadays only walking uphill on the way to school; the old folks had to do it on the way there and back! The point is that people want to feel good about themselves and for many that means demeaning others so as to elevate one’s own self-perception.
Now in the middle of this philosophical query into human nature, we bring you a discussion on NBA basketball and the ridiculous way in which every retired player and his mother insists on how much better the game was when they were playing. There’s a bit of hyperbole there; not everybody is so dismissive of the advancements made to the sport and the incredible accomplishments of many of its brightest stars.
Still, too many former players, as well as purported fans of the NBA, seem to be stuck in the past. This has never been more obvious than during the 2015-16 season with the Golden State Warriors’ quest to win 73 games and break the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ record for best single-season record.
Never mind that the Dubs are redefining the way basketball is played behind the impossibly great shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and their seamlessly switching, positionless defense. Never mind that the NBA has never before been so full of dynamic and multi-skilled athletes. If you listened to the loudest voices of the naysayers, you would think that the league had never been in worse shape.
Those of us who like the modern NBA and appreciate what a remarkable thing it is that the Warriors are doing are sophisticated enough to understand that it would be just as much a fallacy to say that basketball is “better” now as it would be to say that it is worse.
Rather, shouldn’t it be enough to say that it’s evolved? Too much has changed in the game over the decades to merit a valid comparison between the abilities of the star teams and players from different eras. For instance, let’s examine Oscar Robertson’s well-publicized claim that Steph Curry would never be able to get his shot off if he had played in the 60s because of the more physical style of play.
He’s partly right, there is a good chance that Curry would be manhandled on the perimeter which would surely do something to rattle him. Of course he also wouldn’t be attempting as many shots from outside due to the lack of the three-point line and would take over the game from the free-throw line if any team ever decided to hack him, which would have happened in Oscar’s scenario.
After all, it’s not like you could do anything to a person in the ‘60s and avoid a foul. Now Curry is an objectively better ballhandler than anybody who played before the rules about carrying and traveling became more relaxed, so under the modern rules the Jerry Wests and KC Jones of the world wouldn’t be able to keep up with him. And if he played under the old rules that he’s not used to, who knows if he would be effective at all at penetrating the defense?
Do you see how futile an exercise this is? It can be a fun hypothetical to debate, I suppose, but too often the tone I hear when it’s being discussed is intensely critical. Rather than having a friendly conversation about Jordan and Pippen vs. Curry and Thompson, it becomes a personal battle over the honor of two eras.
People seem so desperate to defend the quality of play they experienced in their youth, to feel as if they had it the toughest, that they will resort to base arguments to tear down what is before us here and now, and that’s nonsense.
Sports are supposed to be a good time, try to get rid of that cynicism when you’re watching them and just appreciate what the athletes we’re watching can do! Trust me, I guarantee you’ll have more fun.