sam's notes

notes on government, sports and popular culture

Monday, February 28, 2005

I finally got around to reading Michael Sokolove's excellent N.Y. Times mag article on the state of professional basketball.

I realize most of you don't give a damn about pro basketball. But I think college hoops fans should read the article because, in my mind, it's a cautionary tale on where the college game may be heading.

Sokolove, author of Hustle, the definitive account of Pete Rose's gambling troubles, says two things are ruining the pro game: the three-point shot, about which he says there is "no reason it should not just disappear," and the dunk, which is emblematic of the game's emphasis on "less nuance, explosive force, individual heroics and personal acclaim."

As two examples of the way game should be played, Sokolove cites the great Knicks teams of the '70s, "who seemed to be such a functional, appealing social unit," and the Lakers teams of the '80s with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, the "so-called Showtime teams. The multitalented Johnson, in particular, was understood to have sacraficed his own scoring in order to involve teammates in a free-flowing, high-scoring offense."

It's interesting that Sokolove cites Magic in an article denouncing the dunk. I certainly didn't watch every Lakers game during Johnson's illustrious career, but I watched quite a few, not to mention countless highlights as ESPN surged onto the scene during the '80s. I personally don't ever remember seeing Magic dunk, though at 6-9, I'm sure he could. Still, James Worthy did plenty of dunking off Magic's feeds, I don't think Sokolove argue it was ruining the game.

But think about this: While it's true Michael Jordan revolutionized the dunk, his most famous shots, in the playoffs against Cleveland and Utah, were mid-range jumpers. There's also the lay-up against the Lakers, where he changed hands in mid-air before kissing the ball off the glass.

That said, I'm not down on the dunk. I'm old enough to remember when it was disallowed in the college game, a rule change that denied David Thompson God-knows-how many highlight reels. When it returned, it added a true element of excitement to college hoops. It still does, especially at the end of a back-door pass.

I'm with Sokolove on three-point shot, however. True, it allows teams to get back into a game more quickly, but maybe they wouldn't be so far behind if they shot brick after brick for most of the game.


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