I moved to the US from Australia more than twenty years ago and one thing that stood out even then, before analytics swallowed fandom, was the faith that American sports fans had that statistics could settle any argument.

It was common to hear questions like the ones discussed here posed in all sincerity: Jordan vs Kobe, Ali vs Tyson, late aughts Patriots vs the Steel Curtain era Steelers - who ya got? It beats the weather as a topic of conversation I guess, but not by much.

Watching American friends go back and forth, citing statistics chapter and verse, I was touched by their belief that they ultimately would be able to puzzle it all out before the pitcher ran dry. I was also struck by something with which I was unfamiliar: sports banter as a forum for competition in itself; the idea that you could prove yourself to be the 'best' sports fan by having the most correct facts at your fingertips in service of the most correct opinions. This, of course, is the basis of a multi-billion dollar industry of punditry, fantasy sports and gambling; it's also a little alienating.

By contrast, in Australia, two men at a bar will also eventually seek refuge from awkward silence in the discussion of sport (I'm code-switching here between America's 'sports' and Australia's 'sport' because this is as close as I come to being bilingual). But the conversation takes place on entirely different terms.

"Wasn't Sterlo awesome?" one of them might say, referring to Peter Sterling, legendary half-back of the Parramatta Eels Rugby League team during the 80s.

"Yeah, he was," the other would reply, with admirable brevity.

"Or how about Mick Cronin?" the first bloke (going all out here on the Australianisms) might say, to keep the flickering flame of conversation alive.

"Yeah, he was awesome too."

And then they could just sit there, smiling, watching the highlight reels in their own mind and enjoying their beer in silence. Until one of them eventually breaks the reverie by saying, "Des Hasler was pretty fucken' awesome as well," referring to Sterling's rival at the hated Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.

"Shit yeah," comes the reply. And once again an agreeable silence settles over them.

It's a totally different form of sports appreciation, like slipping into a warm bath. Try it sometime.

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Thinking Basketball recently posted a video cataloguing how the rules have changed in the NBA over the decades, which might even be a larger factor than technological progress: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IPXSqOhykg

Highly recommend watching - what appears to be offensive basketball ineptitude in the 1960's really just reflects the much stricter dribbling and offensive foul rules.

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I spent about 95% of my free time on basketball courts growing up and have until recently followed the game closely. I find it disappointing that some important people like Kenny Sailors have been forgotten, in Kenny's case he was forgotten twice. Steph Curry narrated a movie about Kenny a few years ago called Jumpshot, which has already disappeared.

I was lucky enough to meet Kenny at the University off Wyoming fieldhouse around 2002 and had the absolute pleasure of playing horse and sharing many bologna sandwiches with the legend that invented the jumpshot over the following 3 1/2 years. When i met Kenny i thought he was a liar when he told me his age of 80 and that he invented the jumpshot, he did not appear to even be 60, i soon found that an 80 year old man was serving me my but in horse. Kenny spent most of his time during his final 15 or so years at the fieldhouse coaching anyone that wanted help with their shooting skills, his small apartment was just a few blocks from the fieldhouse. I suppose my friendship with Kenny happened because we had a lot in common, the love of a game, animals, Alaska, etc.

I would encourage anyone who loves the game to find a way to view the movie Jump Shot, because it is about basketball history and one of the kindest, finest human beings of all time, well worth the time to find, R.I.P. Kenny Sailors.

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This should be completely uncontroversial. I am genuinely not sure how someone could disagree with this except just being contrarian.

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Great post and very spot on. As a GenXer whose home team was the 80s Denver Nuggets with the likes of Alex English, Dan Issel, TR Dunn, Bill Hanzlik when the Nuggets were posting 126pts per game and that was back before Air Jordans and Reebok pumps and the refs actually blew the whistle for travelling and the team played as a team.

What a lot of NBA Now fans don't realize is how much game play has truly changed over the last 40 years. Teams today rarely run set plays, and visually it's a veritable free-for-all on the court which is fine for some but if you watch older games from the 80s and 90s, the game play is vastly different as is the physicality of the players.

And I agree that Wilt Chamberlin is very much one of the most disrespected players in NBA history.

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All professional sports are suffering the same decline as is late night talk show viewership and CNN. The greed in seeking the globalist market share and their marketing reports from their marketing departments run by recent marketing graduates who been so indoctrinated with a certain worldview, have them adopting the woke program. And the result has been disastrous as previous devoted fans have dropped out, shut it off and stopped going to the games.

Michael Jordan would not be as effective today as he would be hounded by the media reporting scandal for not being woke enough.

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What I take away from this is JJ REDICK SUCKS GO CAROLINA!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Aug 18, 2022·edited Aug 18, 2022

Largely agree with everything you wrote, but just wanted to throw out a few thoughts (that don't contradict you, but one of which I rarely seen made):

- The players aren't just better for all the modernity reasons you point out, but the overall depth of quality is undoubtedly better because it's drawing from a much larger pool of players from around the world. The 8th best player on the Kings in the 70s would still be an amazing player in 2022, but might not be on a roster. There were about 10-15 foreign players when Jordan played, for example. There are something like 130+ now. This part always seems glossed over.

- I think the ratings have largely dropped due to the totality of entertainment options, but also because of how much politics has been wrapped up with the sport. I mean this sincerely: I've not met a Republican who is an NBA head in the last ten years or so. This might also have something to do with how obnoxious certain NBA fans can be, like the Twitter folks.

- The space in today's game is great, but when the games become simple three point shooting contests, it can get boring, no doubt. They need to change some rules, I think.

The NBA playoffs are still the best sports 'event' there is, though.

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Kobe Bryant, interviewed in the documentary series "The Last Dance" from a few years ago, had a quote about how he responded to people trying to tell him he was superior to Michael Jordan: "Without him there's no me." I am very susceptible to great athletes respecting one another so naturally this has stuck with me, but that idea I think is more interesting to work with than direct comparisons (There's a bit in the Jon Bois doc "The Bob Emergency" about Bob Cousy himself which I like in this regard, too).

I grew up loving the Dallas Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki. He pioneered that sort of kick-out fadeaway jump shot from the post early on in his career (it's immortalized in Silhouette on the court in Dallas now) and now it's a very common move to see forwards make, so in a way his legacy lives on through the way the game's played every night. That's one of the many things that brings me to sports, how the game's history and progression plays out right in front of you. In that way, every great player from the past still has their impact on today's NBA.

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Wilt Chamberlain was the greatest professional basketball player of all time - and it wasn't even close. I'm a die hard Celtics fan, but there's simply no way to deny how otherworldly Wilt was. Russell defended him best, but even Russ barely slowed Wilt down. If anything, Wilt would be even more dominant in today's league due to the incredibly weak caliber of big men playing today.

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This is part and parcel of how a lot of people under 40 approach just about everything in life: if it's new it's probably better, if it's old it's probably worse. I really think that's their starting place for every cognitive meandering that enters their brain: old-bad, new-good.

And it's pure coincidence that these young people happen to be the primary cohort during these obviously better times. <eyeroll>

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Most excellent. Kudos for Bob Cousy era commentary, including pterodactyl eggs for breakfast. Gold.

I watch a good amount of NBA - interestingly, has pulled me away from college basketball. But the worst thing about the NBA is the incredible hype machine (which you allude to). This manifests itself in the most terrible announcers/commentators, always overstating the value of a play, and players. Even Van Gundy has succumbed. NBA telecasts are insight-free zones.

(This coincides with incredibly bad officiating, that usually goes uncritiqued by announcers. Now that is something to explore. Is the NBA the worst? Did it used to be better?)

The hype has infected “basketball journalism” to a large degree as well, as you note. And finally, LeBron, KD and Stef have performed at a level for which there are no heirs apparent. I think that’s the reason for the decline in ratings.

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Just some random encouragement for anyone who, like me, found this argument interesting but has never actually followed basketball to watch “The Last Dance” on Netflix. I probably couldn’t name 5 NBA teams off the top of my head and it was still one of the best things I’ve seen in years; I feel like I understand the 90s in a whole new way.

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Even with all the benefits of modern tech, training, rest, analytics, etc., an individual player has to have the dedication and discipline to benefit from all that. There have been many incredibly talented but lazy players over the years who have underachieved. I'm a Sonics fan and Shawn Kemp is still one of my favorite players of all time but he did not take care of himself. Would a time-machine into the present help him? Players like LeBron are fanatical about training. And that kind of discipline is timeless.

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Nice! More of this kinda thing please. The world will always have its tragic, unsolveable problems and they’ll be debated endlessly. But an old fart such as myself can play with home court advantage in the Old Timers Game! A few points: ESPN & 24/7 web hilights are the likely culprits for lower ratings. Back in the day it was watch the game or be satisfied w/15 seconds of hilights at 11:25 pm. You’re right about the current biases. Is there any field as lame as the current version of sports ‘journalism’? The crisis makes our political discourse seem healthy! And how would the venerable hall-of-famers stand up against today’s crowd? Your take on Wilt says it all. He was a beast.

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Oscar Robertson. Not Robinson.

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