“DEFENSE *clap clap* DEFENSE *clap clap* DEFENSE”
That was the crowd at nearly every NBA game during the 80’s and 90’s. Defense was always on the mind of every fan. Hard screens, big time blocks, poster dunks over the defender, and scoring with tons of contact. You watched games for the bloody noses from a hard elbow in the lane, and for the fights that may ensue at any given time. It was physical. It was hard fought. And to those who witnessed, it was awesome.
Defense isn’t what it once was in the NBA. Contests used to be slugfests. Players were defensive enforcers, grinding their way to victory. Slowing offenses down to idling paces. Senior Matt Comarata holds a strong opinion on the NBA today, that many fans agree with:
“Where’s the defense?” he said.
Today you may here chants and screams when your favorite player pulls up from nearly half court and drains a shot. It doesn’t matter if he previously bricked the first three attempts from the same spot, they just care about the play. That is what the NBA today has come to. Offense.
Now, more so than ever, scorers are cherished. High-powered offenses are revered. Impregnable defenses border on obsolete. Mike D’Antoni an offense only coach, has a job. D’Antoni has obviously had success with the coaching of James Harden, and helping him develop into one of the greatest offensive weapons the NBA has ever seen, and possibly a second league MVP. And also setting the NBA record in three pointers made in one game just a few nights ago, with 27 made three’s.
However, they learned the hard way about the whole “live by the three, die by the three” saying, by missing 27 straight three point shots in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, falling short to the Golden State Warriors. If the Rockets had any sort of defensive incentive (also if Chris Paul played), they may have dethroned the Warriors, and went on to win a title. They had the weapons to win, its just a shame they relied so heavily on the three point line.
That is what made the 90’s so great, they relied on one thing that was there every night no matter what. Unless someone on your team was injured or sick, you could always count on a great defense. Being a presence in the lane, and sending shots back left and right. That is why we also see so much transition and fast breaks in those old highlights. Guys were getting steals and forcing it up the floor for an easy dunk or layup. They were not stopping on a dime, and pulling up from the three point line with a wide open lane. For that matter, even if the lane were to be filled, that didn’t stop guys like Michael Jordan and Shawn Kemp from absolutely tearing up the lane, putting everyone a poster. That’s what was entertaining, scoring on someone at will with a bunch of contact.
Another thing that has greatly changed is the role of the NBA “Big Man”. The center used to be the player that ran the team. He was the guy you wanted to be your best player. Guys like Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, and Shaquille O’neal were so essential to their team in order to win. They were never allowed to shoot three’s or even any shot outside of the paint. They were down low and they were physical. They ran screen and roll smash mouth basketball. If you wanted to score on them, you knew you may get punched in the face in the process. There are so many centers from the 90’s that are revered as NBA legends, its just hard to name them all honestly. Center’s also tend to stand the test of time as well, and never lose the appreciation from the fans even after they retire.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of the NBA and I enjoy watching games. I think guys like Westbrook, Harden, Irving, Embiid, and Giannis are some of the most entertaining players the NBA has ever seen, even if they don’t play tough defense. The NBA today is athletic, possibly the most athletic we have ever seen in the history of basketball. With the exception of Michael Jordan and Vince Carter, the dunks back then don’t compare to the ones that are done on a nightly basis in a regular NBA game. The league is also home to Steph Curry, who is probably the greatest shooter in NBA’s history. But most of all, the NBA is also home to 2 of the best players in NBA’s history, with LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Those are two guys in the league right now that would be great in any era of basketball, especially LeBron. The strength and skill set LeBron is unmatched. The scoring capabilities of Kevin Durant is unmatched. However, these are just two of several hundred. Guys who played in the 90’s like Dirk Nowitzki (retiring this year), Tim Duncan (retired), Kobe Bryant (retired), and Vince Carter (still playing) really showed that grit. They all had a different feel to their game, and it was a more respected feel. They were more fundamentally sound, and are just natural leaders. They made themselves the “alpha male” on teams where they were not even the most talented player.
They were also the toughest physically and mentally on the team. I know people will say, “he was just a veteran player, they all are like that once you get older” but I strongly disagree. In terms of natural leaders, I think Chris Paul is the only one who reflects a 90’s point guard. Other than that, that is something that the NBA lacks, leadership and toughness.
It will be a sad day once Vince Carter retires, because as of right now he is the only player drafted in the 90’s that is planning on playing next season, its a shame.