The evolution of the game has been debated back and forth in an attempt to explain whether or not the game has improved. We have compared legends of yesterday with the legends of tomorrow via statistics, individual testimonies, and readily available video highlights. We have compared legendary teams of different eras in order to gain some kind of bearing on what is different. The truth of matter resides in the fact that nowhere is it more obvious that the game has changed by our lack luster performances in the Rio Olympics. If basketball in fact is so much better now than it was back then, why are we struggling in international play? The answer is obvious to those who actually understand the game of basketball and are not influenced by today’s marketing of the game. Not talking about styles of play but basically referring to the lack of certain aspects of the game that have been long established but not very well inherited. Allow me to further expand on this point.
Without giving you a history lesson, we all understand the impact the merger between the ABA and the NBA had on the game, especially when it comes down to how the game is played. It created a more up-tempo style which allowed for more creativity from the individual aspect of the team game which was suffocating highly skilled players of the mid 60’s early 70’s. The game that was played in the 80’s is a byproduct of this amalgamation of style. The structure of the game had not been compromised but super charged instead. It is this particular structure that has been abandoned by this era of basketball that would especially thrive today because of better spacing and lack of a pivot game.
The structural game provided us with an aspect of movement away from the ball that is no longer apparent in today’s play. This movement was an intricate part of the game because most defenses were ball dominant. It allowed for a more cerebral approach that could manufacture more scoring opportunities that could not be double teamed or schemed against. This did not only produce opportunities for other players that may have been second tier or less skilled, it also allowed scorers to be more productive. We referred to this as the pro-game back then that allowed players to score a quiet 30 or 40 points. It is composed of a series of picks and back picks that lead to slipped screens, back door cuts, flashes in the key, and open shots or rolls off screen action. This movement can also be attained without the virtue of screens. The byproduct of this movement is the pressure it puts on your defenders to constantly adjust and pay attention to the ball.
In 1992, the “Dream Team” showcased this exact attribute when international teams attempted to play their 2X3 zone against us. The entire team, with exception of the college player, had played in the 80’s and possessed that skill set. Its part of what made them so great. Aside from the fact that certain teams were awe struck, possessed no NBA players on their roster, and were younger across the board, the Dream Teamers had honed their skills during an era that consisted of a more sophisticated game. This aspect, or lack there of, is what Serbia, Australia, and France has exposed of team USA on an international stage both offensively and defensively that has been misdiagnosed as lack of effort. International teams have been taught a more fundamental game geared towards the weaknesses of the American game which has evolved into a more individual ball dominant guard oriented game with less ball movement.
With this in mind, team USA has and will continue to win because our players are simply better when it comes to individual skill and talent. Serbia, Australia, and France put themselves in the same situation that occurs to teams that keep the score close. The pressure is on you to take the win and unless your up by 10 points with one minute left in the game, that pressure can seem overwhelming. As for the game, I find it hard to believe that legends produced by a simplified version of the game that can compare to players whom played in a more physical and more complex version of the game. Unfortunately I have neither the time nor the resources to teach all of these novices what to look for when they watch old school basketball film. How can you have a valid opinion of something you don’t even understand? That’s like saying the best checker player is better than the best chess player when the checker player has never played chess… or have I already said this before?