It Behooves the NBA to Listen to Iceman's Critique

Kwame Brown--the sort of NBA 'body' that teams like Charlotte don't need.

The National Basketball Association was in trouble even before the strike sliced a quarter of the games from the schedule. The league puts on its game face and pretends that everything is kiss-kiss make-up, but it can’t do much to disguise the fact that the product on the court simply isn’t very good. (How about the defense in that 152-149 All-Star game?) But don’t take my word for it; listen to Hall-of-Famer George “Iceman” Gervin, who graced the courts from 1972-1986 and dumped in 25,595 points. (That’s an astounding 25.1 ppg.)

Hurray for the Iceman; he has the court cred to make a point I’ve been making for years: that today’s NBA players have athleticism, but very little basketball IQ. He faults NBA management and marketers for being enamored of highlight reels. Says Gervin, “The game went away from the fundamentals and skills aspect and more (players who are) just athletes dominate the game. Dunking doesn’t necessarily show a skill. If you are athletic enough and strong enough, you can dunk. But can you make a left-hand layup or a right-hand layup or shoot an in-between jumper?” His assessment of most of today’s players is a resounding “no.” TV, he notes, reinforces the emphasis on alley-oops and dunks, and this has watered down the game.

Amen to that. The Iceman also shot over 84% from the free-throw line–another lost art. Yes, I know that some Hall of Fame players were bad at the stripe–Wilt Chamberlain comes to mind–but last year’s league average was a gentleman’s C: just 73%. Or, to put into different perspective, it’s just a tad higher than what one sees in the WNBA. The WNBA’s average height is 5’11”; in the NBA it’s 6’7’’ so why aren’t the men pouring it in at a much higher percentage than the women? Could it be exactly what Gervin said? Too much flash and not enough fundamentals? Yep. What does it tell you when only four current players rank among the league’s top 50 in assists per game?

The emphasis on drafting players with an “NBA body” over those with game savvy gives one pause. Would Larry Bird have been a top pick in today’s NBA? John Havlicek? Nate Archibald? Lenny Wilkins? Bob Cousy? Hal Greer? They are among the players in the Hall of Fame who didn’t have NBA bodies, but knew enough about the game to blow guys with better physiques out of their high-tech sneakers. I wonder what would happen if a NBA bottom-feeder such as Charlotte decided to revamp its lineup with smart players instead of athletic ones. Think it could do better than 4-28? So do I.

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