Friday, June 18, 2010

The NBA, and why it sucks

Note: This post was composed after game 2 of the Finals. I wrote it then and avoided publishing it to avoid having to talk about the godforsaken NBA while it was still in season. I'll have a new post up soon talking about the Finals soon.

I've seen enough NBA basketball to recognize how bad it is. Millionaire players missing free throws, games coming down to missed free throws, decidedly unbalanced officiating, and a hilarious lack of understanding of the game of basketball make the NBA, well, the NBA.

There are a couple different things in the sporting world that are influenced too heavily by officiating. Only one is a sport. Basketball, much like gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and figure skating, relies on officials to make decisions which fundamentally alter the game. In hockey, the biggest call a referee can make is the awarding of a penalty shot. In basketball, a ref can change possession of the ball, award free throws, and remove a player from a game in a single play. In a tight game, as the NBA playoffs tend to be, a one point swing can end a game. But calls are routinely made which allow a team to go from having scored a three pointer to being called for a charge and technical foul, sometimes allowing as much as a 5 point swing on a single play. In a slightly wider time frame, a three pointer called back can turn into a three pointer plus a foul shot on the other end. That's 7 points. That's the margin of victory in many games.

In gymnastics, in sync-swimming, and in many other competitions, the judges (officials) have time to observe the "athlete" and make a judgment. In basketball, the decisions are split-second, based on an oblique view from across the court, with ever-expanding impact. NBA instant replay rules only compound a bad situation, restricting what can and can't be reviewed, allowing officials to comfortably make the "right call" even when other factors make the "right call" the wrong call. NBA refs are old, they are getting older, and they are far, far too chummy with the players and coaches. Kobe Bryant frequently puts his arm around the refs and talks to them; players all over the league are able to talk to referees with abandon. This does not portray an image of a league in which consistent officiating can be expected. In baseball, a player touches an umpire and he's ejected. If he whines about balls and strikes, he's ejected. The first step to legitimizing officiating in the NBA is elevating the officials above in-game trash talk and whining. Technical fouls and ejections need to be used to keep the players from interacting with the referees.

Free throw shooting is boring. Unfortunately, many games in the NBA come down to free throw shooting. There's a few reasons for this:
  • the players are no longer playing basketball, but streetball
  • multimillionaire basketball players inexplicably suck at free throws
  • inconsistent, or worse, consistently poor, officiating
Either basketball is a contact game or it isn't. 20 years ago, it wasn't. Then Michael Jordan arrived, and now every jump shooter in the world tries to lean into his defender to draw contact in the hopes of getting a foul, and every defender clobbers anybody in the paint. Basketball is not a contact sport. Assign technical fouls for physical defense and physical offense. Separate the players and let the game flow like it used to, because streetball sucks. And for the love of god, I haven't the faintest idea how PROFESSIONAL basketball players miss free throws, sometimes more than 50% of them. Games are regularly won and lost by free throw margins. Most teams would win far more games by simply making all of their free throws, rather than signing a new player or adopting a new coach.

Finally, the players kinda suck. The on-court screaming, the trash-talking, the goose-necking, it's all stupid. Yes, the players are passionate. But slamming your head into the padding on the basket or pounding your fist on your chest, or yelling "motherfucker!" at your defender, those things are not passion, they're stupid. If I never see Nate Robinson jump off the bench yelling obscenities at opposing players again, it'll be too soon.

The NBA is broken. When the NHL is a more forward thinking league than yours, something foul is afoot. When the college game has better officiated games, more interesting players, and a more compelling background, why does the NBA even exist?

No comments: