I am feeling old.
I don’t have a sore back or terribly bad eyesight or anything, but when it comes to talking about my favorite sport – professional basketball – I catch myself sounding like an old man on his porch telling teenagers to stay off his lawn. I find myself bemoaning the current state of the sport, and I find the gravity of “old person thinking” almost too much to escape.
First, let me explain my problem with modern basketball, so you can at least see where I am coming from. I run on a track at the gym as much as I can (high cholesterol – there’s an old man problem), and as I do, I get to watch the action on the basketball courts below me. Sometimes the teenagers are playing a game, but most of the time they just shoot half-court shots in sad attempts to emulate something they saw on YouTube. They can’t dribble or pass or even shoot the ball worth a lick, but if the coach ever needs somebody to hurl the ball from 47 feet with no defense while illegally traveling, they may finally get their big shot.
This is related to something happening in the NBA. The Golden State Warriors, who play in San Francisco, are suddenly the darlings of the league. They are fast, they are small (relatively speaking, of course) and they shoot three pointers – a lot. In fact, that’s almost all they do. Run down, shoot a three. Rinse. Repeat. It’s the perfect kind of basketball for a generation raised on YouTube and Vine – everything happens in fast moving, bite-sized chunks.
Now, you may be asking yourself, “What happened to the good old days of Michael Jordan and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson?” Well, at the risk of sounding sarcastic – they retired, and the league’s marketing folks identified that their brand of methodical, slow moving, two-point shooting basketball was ready to be retired as well. They needed to reinvent themselves for a new generation (ratings after Jordan retired have never really been the same), so they did. Subtly, the NBA’s leadership began to change the rules of the game. Most critically, they made the physical defensive style that many of us used to appreciate illegal. You can’t really touch a perimeter player (such as Golden State’s superstar Steph Curry) at all anymore without incurring a foul. This had the desired effect, and today small, fast, outside players are virtually unstoppable. For a comparison, watch old tape of legendary Indiana Pacer sharp shooter Reggie Miller being guarded by the New York Knicks’ John Starks in the 90’s. Starks is pulling Miller’s jersey, tripping him and grappling with his arms on every single play. It’s like watching Channing Tatum at an E.L. James book signing. Miller had to run around constantly – just hoping that Starks would bang into another player and lose contact with him.
John Starks would last 10 minutes in the modern NBA before he fouled out. Just like a professional wrestling match has an outcome that is predetermined by the financial powers that be (I like to think of wrestling as a soap opera for men), the NBA is now set up for the Warriors to win. Their style of basketball – shoot first and ask questions later – is what the NBA’s coveted target audience wants to see, and so that is what they will get. The NBA is a business after all. They need to sell tickets and jerseys. I’m not sure that Shaquille O’Neal would even get off the bench in today’s game.
And so I feel like a cranky old man as I pine for the ancient days of defensive lockdowns and shot clock violations. Oddly, it’s the fact that I feel this way that really gets me down. I should know better. Change is normal. Change is good. Change, when it comes to business, is necessary. If the NBA waits too long to periodically seek out a new target audience, they will get stuck appealing to retirees without any extra dollars to spend (see how GM has fumbled the Buick brand if you want an example). Thankfully, I’ve come to this realization: it doesn’t matter if I like the NBA’s new rules or not. I can either adapt to them or find a new game. Complaining will change nothing.
I’m going to continue to apply this thinking to my life and work as well. When the rules change, I’m going to do everything I can to take advantage of them. Instead of seeing them as obstacles, I’ll view them as opportunities. If the league wants me to shoot threes, then I’m going to shoot threes. Who knows? Maybe I’m finally tall enough to play in the NBA!