Friday, May 13, 2011

On the NBA Playoffs and How to Improve the Game

The NBA playoffs are afoot, or ajump as the case may be. Did you know some players have been recorded as having a 44” vertical leap? Yes, many of these athletes are superhuman.

Remaining in the playoffs are Dallas, Oklahoma, Miami and Chicago. Miami will play Chicago to represent the eastern conference in the finals. Dallas will play either Oklahoma or Memphis to represent the west. I must say I think Oklahoma will prove to be the opponent of Dallas, which has never won a championship.

As for prognostication, Dallas will win the west and the eastern finals are already set, where Chicago vs. Miami is a toss-up, as Chicago has the better bench while Miami has the better starters. But Miami’s LeBron and Dwayne Wade will have to play near 40 minutes a game to win, and a seven game series, as it is likely to be, may wear them down. Still I favor Miami for the simple reason that the best basketball player in the world, LeBron James, is desperate to win a championship.

After Miami finally defeated the dreaded Celtics, a feat LeBron never accomplished with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he knelt in silence for what seemed like an eternity before rising and talking to reporters. Whether he was praying or savoring the moment, I don’t know. But he’s hell bent on winning it all, and when it comes down to the decisive fourth quarter of championship basketball, it’s a distinct advantage to have such a superstar—with apologies to Derrick Rose of Chicago, this year’s league MVP.

Dallas, which will almost certainly win the west, like Chicago, has a better overall team, but again here the same principle applies. I think Miami, with LeBron and his fellow superstar, Dwayne Wade, will play with such desperation as to brook no defeat. One delight of the NBA is that superstars really make a great difference among the ten players allowed on a court. I could be wrong about Miami—as I said above, Chicago could wear down Miami’s superstars, as could Dallas in my presumed finals, but I don’t think it’s going to happen, and I believe LeBron will finally attain his elusive NBA championship, the very reason he chose to play for Miami for much less money than he could have received elsewhere.

Despite these playoff considerations for a true fan like myself, there is much wrong with today’s NBA as a spectator sport. My following points for the game’s improvement owe much to Chick Hearn, late announcer for the Lakers for 40 years, who knew more about basketball than most coaches or players. (He had been a good college player himself, I should add.) Here are the changes I suggest:

1. The size of the players has outgrown the 94 by 50 foot court. The court must be enlarged, at least to 100 by 55 feet. The bodies take up too much space for maneuvering—it’s always jammed, and the size of the players can make a defense stifling because there’s no room to move. This is why this era has become the arena of the lightning quick point guard, ala Derrick Rose, Rajan Rondo, Chris Paul and others. These shorter and faster players are able to maneuver among the big trees and get shots off before the more cumbersome players can get their hands up. In addition they can dribble between the redwoods to make uncontested layups as they screw their bodies through incredible gymnastics to score. And if they don’t, the redwoods usually foul them, and these shorter guards make most of their foul shots, which amounts to two points anyway, the equivalent of a basket. In short, the court is too small for the size of today’s players.

2. The basket is too low for today’s seven-footers who make up the front court, the centers and forwards. Dunks are passé’. Recently, at the All Star dunk contest, Dwight Howard slammed a hoop that was raised to twelve feet. An exceptional athlete at near seven feet, 12 feet may be too high for the rim adjustment, as Howard, like a few other players, is often referred to as a freak of nature. But I think raising the rim to eleven feet is reasonable, and would require more skill on the part of players, who could not, with easy abandon, dunk their shots home. They would have to learn to shoot better and maneuver like the smaller players, adding skill and finesse to the game. There are some seven-foot exceptions now, of course, though rare, like Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas who shoots three-pointers as well as anyone, as well as impossible fall-away shots balancing on one foot, right and left both. He, like other skilled seven-footers, would not have his game curtailed by a higher rim, which would make him even more devastating because of his skills besides dunking.

Unfortunately, the enlargement of the court would cause the loss of roughly one row of the most expensive courtside seats, but this is a small price to pay for increased entertainment. The greedy owners would be upset by this, but the game must evolve to accommodate the increased size of superathletic behemoths. in consequence they would be forced to learn more fundamental basketball skills which have made the game great.
3. Foul shots may allow the players to rest in a frenetic game that requires constant sprinting, but fouls shots are boring, except for perhaps the fourth quarter, when foul shot skills might prove decisive. But for at least the first three quarters the team that was fouled should simply be awarded two points while the ball is taken out and the game can quickly resume.

4. Time-outs are excessive and should be limited to one full two minute timeout and one twenty second timeout per quarter, with perhaps one more timeout allowed in the fourth quarter. Naturally commercial concerns with their incessant TV advertising would be horrified by such a prospect, but timeouts significantly slow the game.

5. That these adjustments ever be made is likely a fantasy, given the dominance of business and hype over the purity of the game. Yet the late John Wooden, greatest college coach ever, has been quoted as saying that if you want to see real basketball, watch the women’s league, which is played almost entirely below the rim—though a few women can dunk, but only barely, and not from a standing still position like the men.

I’m a true fan, and a dyed-in-the-wool Lakers fan, but their time has passed, unfortunately, for the present, having been swept by Dallas in four games. And perhaps Kobe Bryant, their superstar, couldn’t dunk an eleven foot hoop, though he might have been able to do it earlier in his career. Nevertheless he possesses skills, like all great players, that make this a non-issue. Skill in basketball is what needs to be promoted, not mere size. I guarantee that if these changes were made the NBA would prove to be more popular than ever. For now, watching the sleek point guards penetrate the key through a rack of redwoods has begun to resemble a running back plowing through linebackers, making basketball more resemble football every day, though inevitably rewarded by the interruption of compensatory foul shots.

I know I have not blogged for a good while due to my mental illness, which is on display in my many manic posts from last fall and winter, but one aspect of my recovery, so I hope, is not to write about myself but external subjects. Occasionally I may update my own struggles, which mainly concern overwhelming anxiety at present, though that is preferable to abject suicidal depression. I also intend to delete my manic posts as I find them embarrassing, so if you have any ambition to review them as a record of my manic phase, I suggest you do it soon.

As a metaphor for the state of my illness, I am in purgatory now but not in hell, thank goodness. And thanks to those who have followed my blog all these years, in which I hope I can continue to come up with subjects external to myself.

Thine in Truth and Art,

C. E. Chaffin

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