What is wrong with professional basketball? Everyone seems to have an explanation. From the Pope in Rome to Mother Teresa in Calcutta, everyone's got an answer.
Salaries are too high so the athletes don't care anymore. Ridiculous. Sure, salaries are up, but it's not like Larry Bird or Magic Johnson took night jobs back in their early days. I don't think they ever cut out coupons.
Then there are those that claim the athletes aren't as good. But maybe expectations are too high. Shaquille O'Neil can play the game of basketball. He's an awesome specimen with unlimited potential. And he's also human.
He wants to play basketball, pure and simple. But our society almost demands him to rap, (his compact disk is a real Christmas treat) make movies, find a cure for cancer, and if there's time, teach young kids how they should lead their lives.
Athletes are forced into unfair expectations. They can't just be good players, they have to become cultural icons. It takes a toll on their play, and even more importantly on our perception of their play. If they are not flashy, charming, or for that matter jerks, then they're not good.
And when you're watched from the age of eight, then the expectations are even greater. Shaquille O'Neil wasn't playing pick up games as a ten-year-old, he was picking an agent.
He was discussing future endorsements, because the basketball gurus already had him targeted as the next great one. Others argue that the league is boring because it lacks rivalries. Flawed opinion. The lack of rivalries is a symptom not a cause.
Bostonians still hate the Lakers. Kurt Rambis was recently cut from Lala Land's team. Think any real Beantowners shed a tear for the man "who looks like he crawled out of the sewer" (to quote the late, great Johnny Most)?
The rivalries still exist. The problem is the players aren't as good--so who really cares. Acie Earl squaring off against Vlade Divac doesn't conjure up images of Parish against Kareem, or Russell against Chamberlain in the twilight of their careers.
The real problem then is the dilution of talent through expansion. This isn't some radical idea. It doesn't rank up their with Einstein's theory of relativity. But it is the truth.
The top athletes are every bit as good, and dedicated as the ones who played in the mid-'80s, but now the talent pool has been asked to expand. The greater the demand on talent, the worse the product.
Each team is forced to have the kid who can't shoot to fill a uniform. It's not that these players are bad, but they don't belong in the National Basketball Association. The league has decided to expand for obvious financial reasons. Basketball has become the most popular sport in the world, so the NBA Bigwigs, thinking like businessmen, thought they should profit from the popularity. Expand, get more cities involved. More markets, larger clientele, and bigger profits.
In the process, the product has deteriorated. Riding around in their Mercedes, the Bigwigs right now probably don't care. But when more people tune in for Wheel of Fortune reruns this year than the NBA finals, the message might get across.
No more expansion. Less is more. At least in the NBA.
--John C. Ausiello is a Crimson Staff Writer.