Steph Curry | Scot Shot Basketball

When longtime NBA fans talk about the greatest era ever in history, you might get several different answers. Many first point to the 1980s, which saw Magic and Bird take the game to another level. Some vote for the golden era of players like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. While many more modern fans will point to the Jordan Era. But almost NONE of them would vote for one point in NBA history: The game today.

Michael Jordan – ‘Artistry’ | Clutch23Productions

To say the game has taken a tumble in the past decade would be an understatement. Not in profit, but in perception. The League is no longer considered a standard of excellence, as purists have pointed out how poorly the game is presently played. Others will bring up rule changes, poor officiating, and a circus-like atmosphere as signs that “the game is not the same anymore.”

So is the NBA really an inferior product to the way roundball was played by previous stars? Or is it just nostalgia on the part of old-school fans?

The 2022-23 NBA regular season averaged 1.59 million viewers across ABC, ESPN, and TNT, down slightly in viewership from last season (1.61M). However, the audience is down almost half from the late 90s, when Michael Jordan and The Bulls were a ratings smash. Those numbers, however, may not necessarily point to a drop in popularity, as television ratings in general – and especially for broadcast TV – are down significantly across the board.

Lebron James | NBA 30 VIDS

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Ratings only tell part of the story, as the perception by many is that the NBA looks almost nothing like it once did. And part of that is just a mere product of genetics and training.

Much of basketball’s recent evolution has occurred because – quite frankly – the athletes are starting to outgrow the game. Seven-footers used to be rare and primarily were known as plodding, post players. Today, they often play on the perimeter, meaning there are more, larger players on the court, virtually shrinking the parameters. 

The average player height in the NBA has remained largely the same since 2000. In fact, it’s even down slightly. But it’s the skill set that the larger players bring to the table now that has changed the game. It’s seen much less focus on inside, physical play. (Critics call it weak and say there’s almost no focus on defense. And, as a fan from the 80’s and 90’s? I would have to agree with them on that.)

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When you add in the European influence, and lax officiating, it does seem as if NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is simply managing a circus-like scorefest. That has turned off people my age, the Generation X crowd, who remember the battles between the championship teams like the Celtics, Pistons, and Bulls. To me, seeing a guy drive into the lane without getting so much as a whiff looks more like basketball than ballet.

Having said that, in the past 25 years, we have also seen the grace of Kobe Bryant, the artistry of Steph Curry, and the Legacy of Lebron. You can take nothing away from the talents of names like that. And anyone who thinks they couldn’t ‘hang in the old days’ is kidding themselves. Some guys are just born to play – in any era.

I don’t make it a habit to watch an NBA game anymore, and I used to literally watch basketball almost every day. Maybe I fall into that demographic often referred to as ‘lapsed fans’. The ones that they hope to someday lure back to the League.

Giannis Antekoumpo dunking | Bleacher Report

I was scanning the television this weekend, and I stopped on an NBA game. I have to agree with modern viewers that their athletes are better than before. And the arenas and salaries are bigger than before.

But that doesn’t make the game itself better. At least not for an ‘old guy’ like me.

By the way? Don’t ask me who won the game. I turned it off after a few minutes.

Ryan Boman is the author of the 2023 book, Pop Music & Peanut Butter: A Collection of Essays about Embracing Life with Laughter & LoveFollow him on social media @RyanKBoman

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