Change of the Game: How Basketball Has Evolved Over the Years

Change of the Game: How Basketball  Has Evolved Over the Years

Aidan Murray, Sports Reporter

No, this was not a WWE match. This was the Detroit Pistons’ attempt to stop Michael Jordan from scoring during their regular season and playoff games from the late 80s through the early 90s. 

Anytime Jordan would drive to the basket, he would succumb to the brutal physicality of the “Bad Boy” Pistons by receiving a hard foul from either Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn or Dennis Rodman. 

What the Pistons did to Jordan from 1988 to 1991 is a prime example of the true meaning of “old school” basketball. 

“That series,” Prospect varsity  basketball head coach John Camardella said, “is when I pretty much started watching basketball.”

In this generation, the addition of the flagrant foul makes it harder and much more rare for players to get away with hard fouls. 

 This seemingly small change over the years has actually created a larger controversy of the debate of how the game has now become “softer” than it was in the time of Jordan and Larry Bird. 

Jordan versus the Pistons was not the only instance of in-game violence during that era. In game one of the 1997 NBA finals, Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone were in an intense competition to prove who was the better rebounder. 

This type of tension caused a few scuffles between the two; however, neither of the two men got ejected from the game.

The competition in today’s game is, of course, still there, but it is harder to get away with cheap shots and getting into an argument or two without receiving at least a technical foul, which is given for unsportsmanlike conduct or a different infraction such as fighting or arguing. The player on the opposing team will then receive two free throws and possession of the ball afterwards. 

For example, the constant feud between LeBron James and Lance Stephenson showed a startling difference in the competition between players now and then. 

Before the two united—by joining the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018— Stephenson was a sort of pest to James. Rather than eye poking, pushing and hard fouls like Rodman and Malone, Stephenson would stare James down, flop, and even blow in his ear. Possibly the worst altercation these two had was a shove from James which immediately rewarded him a technical foul. 

“They want the game to be fast, finesse and scoring…,” Saint Patrick’s varsity basketball coach and Prospect teacher Dominick Cannon said. “For an old school guy like me, I like the more physical [game]. I think there has to be a balance, but right now it’s just a wide open space.”

Compared to the competition of Stephenson and James, game four of the 1984 NBA Finals showed Los Angeles Lakers forward Kurt Rambis on a fast break meanwhile being tailed by Boston Celtics Forward Kevin McHale. As Rambis went up for the layup, he was unexpectedly clotheslined in mid-air. This sparked a heated confrontation when Rambis got up. 

Instead of both players being thrown out due to their actions, McHale was only given a personal foul. 

In an event similar to that of Rambis and McHale, a 2011 contest between the Lakers and Dallas Mavericks saw Lakers forward Andrew Bynum immediately ejected after an obvious hard foul on Mavericks guard J.J. Barea. 

While not as many players are driving to the hoop and taking a hard foul, many have become adaptive to hanging around the three-point arc. This has been a huge factor in what the game has become. 

The NBA did not accept the three point line until the 1979 season, in which most players originally considered it a “gimmick.” Fast forward to 2019, and there has already been debate of the league moving it back. 

“I think it’s fantastic,” Cannon said. “I think the three ball has opened up the game, I think it makes the game more exciting.”

More coaches from before the three point shot are becoming OK with it as they are realizing it has become a huge part of the game not only through high school and college, but largely in the NBA.

Stephen Curry has been trademarked by most fans for his gifted shooting abilities. In the 2018-19 season alone, Curry averaged 5.1 three pointers a game, meanwhile only shooting 11.7 of them. He had a total of 354 three pointers throughout the entire 2018-19 season, meanwhile Larry Bird led the NBA in the 1985 season with just 82. 

“Steph Curry is the king of the NBA right now, Steph Curry is the king of the basketball world right now,” Cannon said. “He’s probably the best shooter… the best pure shooter I’ve seen with my own two eyes, ever.”

According to Camardella, it has spaced the floor more, forcing players to become much quicker on defense nowadays. They no longer only have to guard from the free throw line and in, they now have to extend twenty feet out to at least contend the shot. 

Senior Zach Zei has played basketball for nearly ten years, and has clearly seen how the three point shot has strongly impacted the game. 

“Kids are starting to shoot from that far away at a much younger age,” Zei said. “This is due to players in the NBA like Stephen Curry. They look up to them as role models and shape their game after them.”

Through all the changes basketball has seen and will continue seeing for years to come, basketball coaches and fans like Camardella and Cannon have stuck with it because they truly love the sport and are passionate about it.

“I’m just glad to be along for the ride, it’s such a great sport,” Camardella said.