Sports

Blasberg ’18: Tanking and tepid play: Why I’ve given up on the NBA

By
Sports Columnist
Monday, February 9, 2015

Last week, I was browsing TV channels when I stumbled upon the Boston Celtics taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves. After watching the game for less than a quarter, I was ready to stick needles in my eyes. The game was unbelievably boring. I was not surprised to see that most of the fans on screen were even less enthused than I was, as many were checking their phones. I came to the realization that night that the teams and the league that I loved so much as a kid have little value to me now.

Over the past five years, I have noticed two major flaws in how teams conduct their games and seasons. The first aspect of the NBA that has turned me off is the epidemic of tanking, or losing as many games as possible with the hopes of getting a top draft pick the following year. Looking at the Eastern Conference now, only the Atlanta Hawks, the Toronto Raptors and the Washington Wizards — and possibly the Cleveland Cavaliers if they can gain momentum come playoff time — have legitimate championship hopes. Seven of the remaining teams seem to be tanking, and two more may start tanking if their seasons don’t turn around. Think about that! Over half of the teams in the Eastern Conference could be trying to lose! That also means that one of these teams will stumble into the NBA playoffs, which are supposed to showcase the best basketball on the planet.

What tanking translates to for me, as a spectator, is that if I turn on any given NBA game, odds are that one of the teams will be hoping to lose. Of course, the coaches and players do not actively try to lose, but the team’s ultimate goal may be to lose as many games as possible. That’s impossible to get behind as an enthusiast of the sport.

Furthermore, team owners and league officials recognized the problem that tanking poses for the NBA, and as a result, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver proposed anti-tanking measures. The draft reform needed 23 votes to pass, but the final vote was 17-13 in favor and the reform was rejected.

The 13 teams that opposed the reform are likely either currently tanking or planning on tanking in the next few years. This means that a large segment of teams in the NBA have losing games as a part of their future goals. That is a travesty. Because of the nature of the MLB, NFL and NHL, tanking has never been a problem, but rookies have proven to have an impact in the NBA, and it looks like tanking is here to stay.

The second flaw in the NBA is its slow, boring style of play. The athletes are some of the strongest, fastest and most agile people on the planet. In addition, each individual’s skills are unfathomable. With the exception of the inevitably awkward 7-footer, players can dribble, pass and especially shoot with amazing dexterity and ease.

Shouldn’t that make play in the NBA more exciting than that in college basketball? Theoretically, it should; however, NBA teams feed off of their individual players’ talent instead of teamwork. Whereas in college, you will see coaches drawing up plays (such a cool concept, right?) with X’s and O’s with an Expo marker on a white board, the NBA is the home of the one-on-one. If NBA coaches were to draw up plays for their offensive possessions, most would simply read, “Give the ball to (insert leading scorer’s name here) and get out of the way.”

Teams rarely execute offensive plays beyond pick-and-rolls and isolations because the skill of any offensive player combined with a low average defensive effort in the league are conditions that lend themselves to a very simple style of play. Simple, slow-paced and boring. Set plays with picks and passes and immaculate timing are much more fun and exciting to watch.

Another thing that irks me about the style of play in the NBA is the pervasive culture of dunking and showmanship. I find the game of basketball to be at its highest aesthetic form when two teams challenge each other with sound plays and solid defense,  creative passes that baffle opponents and defensive traps that result in turnovers. Nowadays, players force the ball through the lane and to the rim in attempts to get on SportsCenter’s highlights in the morning, as opposed to creating actual scoring opportunities for their teams.

Until the NBA can produce an entire season of exciting basketball, I will continue to opt for winter alternatives, like the NHL and college basketball. What the NBA lacks — competition and team play — these other two options make up for in abundance.

Charlie Blasberg ’18 can be reached at charles_blasberg@brown.edu.

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  • Doug

    I don’t think it is fair to generalize the NBA as a league lacking competition and team play. Look back at the 2014 Finals, when the Spurs exhibited some of the best team basketball ever. Nearly every team in the NBA strives to replicate what the Spurs achieved. How about the Hawks? The Hawks have essentially copied the Spurs system, bringing in a long time assistant coach to be their own head coach, and running virtually the same plays and sets. With regards to players being selfish by trying to make spectacular yet difficult plays, what do you say to guys like Russel Westbrook and Steph Curry? These dudes can do things that would seem impossible to a spectator. While their play certainly warrants a spot on SC’s Top 10, they are simply doing what they are capable of in order to win a game. The NBA will always be different than the NCAA because NBA players are motivated by contracts and money. However, each has their own beauty and should be appreciated for just that.