Monday, February 11, 2013

Basketball: Formerly a Team Sport in the NBA

Today, an avid basketball fan prefers watching an NCAA Division 1 basketball game rather than an NBA game. The reasons for this are always the same – the teams are more focused on defense and the strategies to winning are based off of team basketball. Prior to the 2000s, this was the opposite. The NBA was more focused on team basketball rather than one-on-one play. This resulted in more fans actually enjoying watching the games. I wonder if team basketball and playing defense is more effective to winning and enjoyable to watch compared to the one-on-one style that has seemed to take stage in the NBA. I believe that team basketball and defense achieves both of the above.

One of the reasons that I believe everyone playing defense is a reason for college basketball to be more successful than the NBA is because it is all effort and determination. Fans love to see this on the court. People who are fans of sports teams like to consider themselves a part of that team and they are not happy when there is no effort put forth by the players. “And nowhere is a lack of effort more noticeable than on defense.” ( The fact that every single team shows their passion through playing hard on defense in college makes for a more intense game and a more meaningful one not only to the players and coaches, but the fans as well. Because of the effort and hard-work put forth every single night by college players, watching a college basketball game is more fun for a fan. It makes it easier to get caught up in the action and find yourself on the edge of your seat rooting for your favorite team. From personal experience, playing varsity high school basketball in the most competitive leagues in the state of Pennsylvania, I would get pissed off at one of my teammates if they were not putting forth the effort on the defensive side. Not only does it show a lack of motivation, but it also hurts the team. From a teammates perspective, not hustling on defense can hurt team chemistry.

An objection to this argument is that the NBA regular season is much longer than the college season, so players can afford to coast through some of the games. Also, there is one rule change in the NBA which some say makes the defense in the NBA actually more active than in college. In the NBA there is a three-second rule on defense, meaning centers cannot sit in the middle of the lane the whole time and just block shots. At the college level, because there is no “defensive three seconds rule,” centers have a lot more freedom to be lazy ( Out of the past 10 years, 8 of the teams who won the NBA Championship have been known for the defense. Therefore, the common understanding of winning in the NBA means you have to play defense well and put forth the effort.

The college basketball fan replies to such objections saying that just because the top-tier teams play hard on defense that does not make the rest of the regular season enjoyable to watch. Yes, the playoffs are more interesting because the best teams play defense, but to watch 60 of the 82 regular season games being played without the players putting forth their full effort can be pretty dull. Whereas every college game being played during the regular season is full of non-stop energy and diving for loose balls on defense. However, one who prefers college basketball would have to concede to the fact that the three-second rule in the NBA is a way to make the defense more active. There are no lazy zone defenses in the NBA, which are sometimes seen frequently throughout college basketball.

The modern NBA shows a lack of offense compared to the play of the NBA in the 1980s. In the 1984-85 season every team in the NBA averaged at least 102 points per game, whereas the winner of the 2006 NBA Championship, the Detroit Pistons, reached that total only once that season (Bechtell and Cannella). The main reason for the high decline is because the pace of the game has changed. Instead of the fast-paced, ball-moving style of play we were used to seeing in the 80s, we now see a slowed down pace, focused more on one-on-one play and the other players simply standing around watching the guy with the ball. “Regardless of the speed with which the game is played, teams have become less efficient on the offensive end” (Bechtell and Cannella). This is not exciting for fans to watch, it actually gets pretty boring. The fast-paced style of the old-school NBA is focused on teamwork and players moving without the ball to get open. This style is still in play for college teams.

Many fans of the NBA object to this reasoning. They state the players in the NBA are so more athletically talented than the college players that one-on-one play works better. “The players are so talented and so rare that they are so distant from an average fan” (McCormick). The most talented players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant sometimes cannot help themselves from going one-on-one because they simply just have greater skills than the rest of the players in the world. Some fans of the NBA also like to argue that seeing a spectacular one-on-one dunk or buzzer beater is more enjoyable than watching a routine drive and kick for a three-pointer.

The stats speak for themselves when replying to this objection. The ratings for the NBA Finals in the 1980s were around 15 million whereas the average in the 2000s were about 9 million ( This shows that the fans enjoyed the old school style of play, team-basketball, over the newer one-on-one style used more often now. Yes, the highlights in today’s games may be flashier and show off more athleticism, but the overall play of the teams and players was more smooth and intellectual in the 1980s. The ratings also prove that the fans enjoy the more fast-paced game, which I love to hear. I played point guard my whole life and I was the type of player who loved to play in a fast-paced offense. Throughout my career I came across teammates who objected to this because they wanted to act like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. It is good to see that general public enjoys the fast-paced team style of play that I always preferred.

A final argument I would like to make for college basketball is the postseason style of play. The NCAA March Madness Tournament is one of the most highly anticipated and watched events in all of sports. The beauty of this tournament is:

players are undoubtedly trying their absolute hardest. They are not a bunch of rich guys who would live perfectly comfortable lives outside of the game. They are playing for their school and the chance to own their respective campuses; they are playing for a chance to make it to the NBA one day. The egos aren’t there to the extent that they are in the NBA” (Roberts).

Also, any team has a chance to advance in the tournament. Consistently the March Madness Tournament has seen upsets and Cinderella teams make runs to the Final Four. This makes for a more enjoyable game and fans to be more captivated by the underdog stories.

A basketball fan usually never objects to the fact that the March Madness Tournament is one of the most enjoyable, fascinating events in sports. However, fans of the NBA would argue that the NBA Playoffs are even better and show off more talent. The NBA playoffs have been known for great rivalries, not only “between teams, but also between players. The best rivalries combine the best of the two. Everybody loved watching Magic and Larry go at it” (Roberts).  Such rivalries can engage the fans more in the game. If one loves a certain player in the NBA, such as Magic Johnson, he or she seems to take his rivalry with Larry Bird personal. This is instinct for a fan, but it makes his eye glued to the TV watching every possession. Also, the NBA playoffs show the best talent in the world and in the playoffs, every player is playing their hearts out to win that championship. This aspect of the NBA is amazing to see.

It is hard for the college fan to reply to such an objection. As great as the NCAA March Madness Tournament can be, the NBA Playoffs can be just as exciting for a fan to watch. In some cases, they are even better because they showcase the best players in the world. However, the NCAA tournament has more chances for Cinderella stories and underdogs to win and lets face it, everyone loves an underdog. When it comes down to the post-season, it is a stalemate between the NCAA and the NBA. This part of the NBA is where you cannot fault the players for not putting in the effort on every single play. I believe any fan of the game enjoys both styles of post-season play.

As one can see, there is much debate on whether the style of play in college basketball and the old-school NBA is better than that of the modern NBA. Teamwork and hustle and effort on defense highlight the old-school style, whereas on-one-one play and coasting through the regular season on defense has become the modern style. I believe the NBA in the 80s and college basketball is more enjoyable to watch because of the effort put forth every play on defense and the fast-paced style of the game, which means offenses based off of team strategies. As like any basketball fan, I know the NBA is still a competitive league with exceptional superstars who I love to watch, but when it comes down to the actual style of play, watching an NBA game from the 1980s or the NCAA March Madness Tournament is what I would rather prefer. It is easier for a fan to relate too.


  1. Great article, how about Boston as of late? With the loss of rondo, they have looked more like a college well rounded team

  2. As a 76ers fan, I am disappointed in how well the Celtics are playing without Rondo, however, as a fan of the game, I think it is awesome how they are playing as a team and winning games. Reminds me of the Dallas Mavericks championship team.

  3. I hear you, as a Lakers fan I despise Boston but I know good basketball when I see it. Just wish the Lakers could play like a team.