NBA lockout: Where did the fire go?

By The Beacon | September 7, 2011 9:00pm

PJ Marcello (-- The Beacon)

By PJ Marcello

The NBA season is in jeopardy of a lockout because so many teams are losing money, but I find the money lost has a direct correlation with how soft the NBA is. Not just soft, I'm talking baby thigh soft. The league has worked hard to make its image more family-friendly; unfortunately, this has taken a toll on the competitive edge that once made the NBA so entertaining to watch.

As a kid growing up in Seattle, I had the opportunity to witness some of the greats of the 90's, specifically the potent combination of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. While their skills were unquestionable, a lot of what made them so fun to watch is how they competed.

Back in the glory days you could watch Kemp soar through the air and slam a vicious posterizing dunk on someone, followed by a mean stare down of his opponent, or occasionally even a friendly teabag (YouTube Kemp dunks on Rodman). In the same game you would watch Payton guarding Michael Jordan so close, Jordan could smell his breath. Not only that, but Payton and Jordan would be jawing back and forth all the way up and down the court, elevating each other's game to a whole new level of competition.

Unfortunately, this is a lost art in the NBA. I credit a lot of this to the rules of the game where officials don't allow hard fouls in the playoffs, or a few choice words can get you T'd up. Why? These are grown adults playing a competitive sport for a living! If talking a little trash is part of their style then more power to them.

There is a psychological edge that getting into your opponent's head can provide. Many of the greats, including Jordan, Magic and Bird frequently practiced this. I mean, look at Charles Barkley, he's still talking smack, and he retired years ago.

However, not all of the blame can fall on the League's shoulders. A lot of this has to do with the change of culture in the NBA. It seems as if the point for many NBA stars is to simply be the prettiest and most popular, like a "who can sell the most jerseys" contest. Rivalries have lost their fire aside from the occasional Celtics-Lakers match up. People are more interested in arguing about Kobe vs. LeBron than any representation of their favorite team. The individualistic culture has taken over and tainted the sport.

I'm not going to sit here and blast LeBron like many do; to be honest I think he has done great things for the sport and worked his ass off to get where he is today. However, I do wonder sometimes if he is more interested in winning games or selling me his brand. I only say this because I have to question the competitive drive of an athlete who should not be able to be stopped by anyone in the NBA.

I am not taking credit from the Mavericks, but Wade, James and yes, even Bosh should be able to run through an aged Mavericks team in a seven game series. All and all, I am just saying that some of these guys in the NBA aren't true ballers anymore: they're businessmen who happen to be good enough at basketball to make it to the pro level.

This is not true for all of them. There are many exceptions such as Deron Williams, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard and, I would say, most veteran teams like the Mavs, Celtics and Spurs who are hungry for another ring. I am sure you could throw in plenty of others, but the popularity contest of the NBA compared to what it was is undeniable.

Don't get me wrong, Jordan has made his money outside of basketball, but nobody could question his desire to win or what his priorities were. The stats, rings and overall success says it all. This brings me to my final point. The stars of the NBA's past were competitive in every aspect of basketball. Just look at a team USA roster from the 80's and 90's. There is a reason they were called the "Dream Team" and were constantly so dominant.

While many parts of the world have caught up a little bit, there is no way with the talent pool from the US, that we should ever be "winning" a bronze medal in basketball. Not only in serious competition, but even fun events like the dunk contest were headlined by Jordan, Wilkins and Dr. J! Look up those highlights and tell me more people wouldn't be watching if LeBron, Kobe and Dwight (who actually does do it) were competing.

Instead, fans each year are treated to Dwight Howard, Nate Robinson and three other guys who you may have heard of if they play on your favorite team to show up at the contest.

I love basketball, and I am a huge fan of the NBA which is why it is so frustrating to see the vast differences in the level of play from when I was growing up to now. There are still a lot of great highlights but in general the league has gotten too friendly.

I miss seeing Charles Barkley slam on his defender and look them straight in the eyes as if to say "I am better than you, stay out of my way or get embarrassed on TV again." Or the Bad Boys of the old Detroit Pistons, good luck finding a scarier team to play against in the playoffs.

I am not saying everyone in the league needs to talk smack or take cheap hacks at their opponent, but I do think the NBA would regain a lot more popularity if the players and officials allowed a more in-your-face intensity where passion and desire matters like I remember seeing in the glory days. There is nothing wrong with dominating the opposing team and letting them know that you won't be stopped until someone else does something about it — just ask Mike.

PJ Marcello is a junior communication studies major.