As he walks into the gym, a crowd of 10-year-olds rushes him. He quietly signs multiple autographs, smiling gently as the children parade him with questions about his famous trash-talking days with Michael Jordan.
“Yeah, I gave him problems when I guarded him,” he said.
Well known for his defensive prowess and toughness, Gary Payton sat courtside at a local prep school game in Napa, California. During the bout, he even stood up and had a back-and-forth with a top high school player, Josh Jackson.
Less than a month ago, Payton tweeted, “I could never play basketball in this soft era. All of my contract money would go toward fines.”
Payton has a point. Is the sport of basketball becoming a less physical and of a finesse game?
In Payton’s heyday, a physical and psychological game was part of basketball. Receiving the third most technical fouls of all time, he frequently was viewed as the symbol of grit, competitiveness and toughness. If you were to watch an NBA game from the 1990’s, a sharp contrast from a 2016 Golden State Warrior’s game is what you would see.
Long three point shots from 35 feet away? Doubtful. Extreme efforts to fake as if you’re being fouled (i.e flopping)? Rare.
Payton played in the age where the NBA was frequently said to be an acronym of No Boys Allowed. From blows thrown to all-out brawls in Detroit, a timid player wouldn’thave survived.
Former Boston Celtics player Robert Parish once punched Bill Laimbeer without receiving a technical foul, while in 2007 Tim Duncan gets a technical for laughing on the bench.
Referees have been under fire more than ever before in the last few years because of their attempts to “clean up” the game. Granted, the NBA shouldn’tpromote outright violence, yet not allowing the more physically gifted players to compete freely is robbing them of their strong suites.
Nowadays, the league promotes athleticism, versatility and potential. Very rarely will you see a six foot nine, 253-pound bruiser like Karl Malone gracing the court, punishing defenders with his body. Arguably the most famous big man of all time, Shaquille O’Neal, is ancient talk.
Now we have 7’’3’ players shooting three pointers instead of posting up, some guy named Curry regularly shooting threes from beyond 26 feet, and a lack of true NBA centers.
On top of that, in the NCAA world, the major changes were put in place starting this season in effort to increase scoring output.
From changing the shot clock to 30 seconds, the NCAA wants to reduce inaction. Faster play means less fouls, which translates to less physicality.
One glaring ruleput in place for the first time this year is the extermination of the five-second closely guarded rule. Defensive-minded players such as Payton will no longer able to be rewarded for hounding an opposing player.
So is Payton right when he says the game is getting soft?
It depends on who you ask, but what’sundeniable is the lack of physicality and aggression in a sport that was once lauded for both.
It’s less exciting to watch for a fan such as myself, yet may be enjoyable to the younger fans who are being raised on Curry and the three ball.
To each, their own.