I've gotten to the point that I hardly ever watch NBA basketball anymore. But it's the playoffs, so I'm semi-interested (and my son watches every minute he can). It is truly painful to see how far the game has fallen off since the glory days of the Dream Team.
Case in point--shooting. NOBODY CAN SHOOT THE STUPID BALL ANYMORE! I pulled up nba.com and looked up shooting percentage leaders to see if my perception was true or if I'm just turning into a grump old man. If you scan down the list, the first guy you come to who shoots half-decent and is not a bench warmer or role player is Dwight Howard, at 54%. Shortly behind him is Yao Ming, at 52%. Are you kidding me? These are not guys who are jacking up threes. They are centers! Kevin McHale shot 60% from the floor (and 80% from the line) in consecutive years. Charles Barkley made over 58% of his shots from 2-point range (and he took LOTS of jumpers). The '87 Lakers (who I hate with a passion, but you've gotta admire the skills) shot better than Yao as a team.
Same thing with assists. I remember complaining 25 years ago how the east coast refs were much tighter with assists than they were in the west. Seems like Bird or Isaiah could never get the credit that Magic or Stockton could for a nice pass. But now? Even those west coast "showtime" refs would be embarassed at the way they count them. If you compare stats from then and now, it's almost like trying to look at pre-steroid baseball cards.
Ditto the three-point shot. The three-pointer came into the NBA with Magic and Bird in 1980. Bird was the first player to ever make one in the all-star game. It was about '87 when college adopted the line. When I graduated high school, there was still no 3-pointer, and if you jacked up a 20-footer, it had better go in, or your butt was headed to the bench for a while. The long ball may have added to scoring totals and made for better comebacks, but it sure hasn't made the game any prettier. Does anybody over the age of 35 remember that time when Michael Jordan came down the court, waved off the other 4 guys on his team, and launched a 24-foot bomb? No? That's because it never happened. The one who does that is Kobe Bryant. MJ passed the ball, came off of screens, and took good shots. Today's superstars jack up treys with no conscience. Nowadays, all they do is pass into a big man on the block (who barely makes half of his shots), and then he kicks it out for a three. They repeat this until the shot clock winds down. BO-RING. When the three-pointer was new, it was rarely used. Larry Bird, who won three consecutive 3-point shootouts, made only 0.7 threes a game. Compare that to Lebron James, who has already made more threes than Bird did in his entire career.
And let's talk about Lebron. There's no doubt that he is the best player on the planet right now. And he's good--an athletic wunderkind. How does he stack up to the greats of yesteryear? Well, let's compare him to Larry Bird, who played the same position. Lebron does score about 3 points more per game (almost entirely due to the fact that he takes more shots, including the above-mentioned 3-pointers). Bird averaged more rebounds. They are almost equal in assists, but assists are a lot easier to come by these days. Bird shoots significantly better from every range: two-point, three-point, and foul shots. But most importantly, Lebron is in his 7th year in the league. He just won his first MVP, and, if (and it's looking like a BIG if) he can get past Orlando and then the Lakers, he has a chance to win his first title. By Bird's 7th year, he had three MVP awards and three championships. Lebron is a big fish in a very small, brackish pond. Compare Kobe to Jordan. ROFL. Compare Dwight Howard to Kareem. Or to Ewing. Or to Akeem. Even to a pre-geritol Shaq. ROFLMAO.
So, I'm waiting to see who wins the NBA (No Basics Association) title this year. But it's not the same. Not by far.