What sports I’ve been watching

Game 2, Celtics vs. Bulls, 1986, the one where Michael Jordan scored 63 points.  Watching it over a number of days on the exercise bike, I was struck by the following:

1. The Chicago Bulls, to a remarkable degree, decided to run their offense through Orlando Woolridge, and not for the better.

2. The camera did not follow MJ around obsessively, nor do the announcers seem to realize how great he will become — this was his second season, and he spent much of it injured and not playing.  And he was not yet able to make his teammates better (see #1).

3. One announcer remarks that Charles Oakley is not big and strong enough to play center.  Admittedly Robert Parrish was taller, but Oakley was one of the strongest men ever to play in the NBA.

4. The game comes across as remarkably slow, and the Celtics as molasses slow and bad at defense.  A swarming contemporary defense would shut down Kevin McHale.  Ainge and Dennis Johnson are heralded as one of the best backcourts ever, but I believe Damian Lillard or a few other current peers would cut them to ribbons.  Note that the Celtics were 40-1 at home that season, still a record, so they were a remarkable team for their time.

5. Michael Jordan scores most of his points on shots — the long 2 — that coaches strongly discourage players from taking these days because of their low expected value.

6. Few of them look good taking a three-pointer.

7. MJ aside, Bill Walton is the one who comes across as the world-class player on the court, despite his age of 33, a long history of foot and other injuries, and limited mobility.

8. 63 points is a lot, but the Bulls lost the game and Jordan was far from his later peak.  It is nonetheless striking how much better was his conditioning than that of any other player on the court, and that is why he was able to score so much in the fourth quarter and take over the game.


When did you get an exercise bike? New habit?

Peloton? Those things are overpriced and they have subscriptions.

Ironically, basketball is the only thing less interesting than riding an exercise bike.

Not a playoff game, but Kobe's 81 points against the Raptors in a come from behind victory was a thing of beauty. RIP

"One announcer remarks that Charles Oakley is not big and strong enough to play center. Admittedly Robert Parrish was taller, but Oakley was about 6’10” and one of the strongest men ever to play in the NBA."

In retirement, Oakley became Jordan's bodyguard / entourage.

I can recall when Chicago traded Oakley, a former NBA leading rebounder, to the Knicks for immobile center Bill Cartwright in order to let skinny Horace Grant play power forward for the Bulls. At the time, I thought that was a really dumb trade, but it turned out to be brilliant for Chicago. (And Oakley turned out fine for New York.) Shows what I know ...

Walton was a basketball god at UCLA and then for about 1.5 years in Portland when he was healthy c. 1977. Walton and Bird on the same team was a thing of beauty.

My impression from following Walton down Rush St. in Chicago in the 1990s, watching the reaction from girls who didn't recognize him wondering who this immense man must be, is that he is more like 7'1" than his official 6'11".

Yes, look at the Celtics team picture from that year. Walton is taller than both Robert Parish (7' 0") and Kevin McHale (6' 11"). Yet, Walton insisted that he be listed as 6' 11".

Walton wanted to avoid the stigma that anyone 7'0 or taller couldn't be skilled.
Meeting him in person, he was definitely 7'1. I'm not terribly far from 7'0 myself, and he was significantly taller.

David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game is one of the best sports books I've read.

It follows the 79-80 Blazers.

I can second that comment about "The Breaks of the Game." Truly a great book.

Walton was over 7 feet tall but always called himself 6'11" because he didn't want to be seen as the stereotypical 7-foot basketball monster.

Oakley was listed at 6’8” and possibly a half inch shorter than that. Parrish was all of 7’ tall.

This blog seems to have become a hang-out for sovereign citizen and survivalist types. Next Tyler going to pretend he all up into NASCAR.
Gotta do what you gotta do to get them clix.

sad commentary on the state of things today...I'd much rather be watching live action of our best athletes...unless they want to play in empty stadiums at half salary it could be some time

5. Jordan later goes on to improve his fadeaway jumper, probably the best in the game, and it opened up his inside-outside game. That shot has a low expected value if you are not Jordan.

That Celtics team was molasses. The NBA then didn't have as many athletic players. Bird, McHale, Parrish, and Ainge all have decidedly awkward bodies but they sure made the most of it. Jordan completely raised the bar on future athleticism and thank god.

I watched that game on television as it was played.

That 86 Celtics team would have been successful in today's NBA- don't kid yourself, Tyler.

That Celtics team would be a mid tier team by today's standard. No offense to old timers but basketball is partly a game of information so the up and comers have an advantage there. There's so much ubiquitous video footage, analysis, and classic games to learn from that new players can form good habits from the start and truly study the subject unlike the old timers that had to trial-and-error their way to success.

Don't laugh but even NFL players raised their football IQ by playing Madden on their Xbox in the offseason. Some have played Madden for 10 years before joining the league. These are opportunities that previous generations didn't even have access to but it's available to just about all youth today.


The modern NBA game is more athletic than ever. The athleticism on every roster 1-12 is mind boggling.

The outside shooting abilities of even average role players in incredible and with volume too.

However, I would say basketball IQ is a good deal lower. There is so much bad defense played by so many teams.

Take even Lebron for example, 90 percent of the time he can’t be even bothered to give average effort on the defensive end.

The Clippers are obviously the gold standard but the drop off after them is sizeable.

And interior defenders in today’s game are a joke. Outside of Gobert, it’s an abomination.

Peak Jordan not having to face a hand check rule and a total lack of good team and interior defense would feast on today’s game.

In addition to the information advantage and raw physical athleticism, the NBA is a global game today that wasn't so in the 1980s. The best players from Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa are all in the same North American league today.

defense is much harder to play today - slow ground-bound centers have been played off the floor completely over the last decade. dave corzine wouldn't even be on a team today.

gobert is an excellent rim-protector, but so is lopez, giannis, porzingis, davis, turner, embiid. guys like bam adebayo and draymond green who can switch onto other guys, al horford when he plays center, and mitchell robinson blocks a lot of shots.

teams pick-and-roll defenses have also gotten more complex, and offenses like the Triangle which was innovative in 1990, is obselete and unplayable against modern defenses.

I'd also say the unwritten rules have changed so much it's hardly the same game. Allowing basically 3 steps after receiving the ball; allowing palming and overt carrying have made it unrecognizable.

The moneyballing of the 3-point shot have changed it too, but the dynamics of ball movement mean players are able to dance around without the ball hitting the court much more than was ever allowed in the past.

I think you may be missing quite a lot with these observations, Tyler.

First, the Boston Celtics were recognized at the time as being one of the slowest, if not the slowest team in the NBA. Even the announcers routinely stated this during their games. One of the dominant themes during the 1980s was the fast-breaking Showtime Lakers competing against the slow, white guys with blue collar grit from Boston (or Indiana, where Bird is from). The contrast in playing styles was always an interesting part of the NBA at the time.

Second, at around the 9:05 mark in the youtube link to the video, Jordan dribbled the ball between his legs about three times while apparently trying to drive past Larry Bird. He wasn't able to and settled for a jump shot. Most defenders considered better athletes than Bird were usually not as successful at keeping Jordan in front of them, and I doubt most defenders today would do as well against Jordan as Bird did then.

Third, while Jordan was dominate at getting open and making mid-range jumpers, most players in today's NBA are not nearly as skilled in the fundamentals to do that. It takes tremendous footwork and an uncommon level of balance and incredible body control to dominate the way he did. No one in today's NBA can do that; Kobe Bryant was closest to Jordan in this area, but that still remains a major difference between him and Jordan: not quite as balanced and less skilled in how he controlled his movements. So, coaches today shouldn't encourage players today to take those kinds of shots. They're simply not good enough to create those shots for themselves. I can't imagine Lebron James creating shots for himself the way Jordan did.

Last, while it is true that today's NBA players are better athletes and can shoot better than players in the 80s and 90s—in addition to being better conditioned—that doesn't make them better basketball players. You weren't necessarily trying to say that, but that is one of the most fascinating things about the NBA. You could argue that NBA players are the most elite athletes in the world. In fact, many NFL wide receivers, including some in the NFL Hall of Fame (e.g. Cris Carter), have said they chose football because pro basketball was just too competitive. But you don't have to be an elite athlete to completely dominant the sport. There is no better example of this than Larry Bird, and I think most NBA defenses today would still struggle to defend a player like Kevin McHale.

My point in saying this is just to make a strong case for the way the NBA used to be where fundamentals were stressed and teams stayed together to try and win together. And to raise doubts that any modern NBA team could easily beat the 1986 Boston Celtics.

" I doubt most defenders today would do as well against Jordan as Bird did then."

Bird did such a good job that Jordan scored 63 points in a playoff game. The most ever in NBA history. As Tyler mentioned, that wasn't even a mature, peak form Jordan.

No Ryan, you missed by a mile. I don't mean to be offensive, but the comment clearly is not coming from someone intimately familiar with basketball. I know Tyler isn't either, but one couldn't tell that from his comment. And I can easily tell from yours, points 2-4 especially.

How, specifically, is he wrong on those points?

For example point 2, this:
"Jordan dribbled the ball between his legs about three times while apparently trying to drive past Larry Bird. He wasn't able to and settled for a jump shot. Most defenders considered better athletes than Bird were usually not as successful at keeping Jordan in front of them, and I doubt most defenders today would do as well against Jordan as Bird did then."

In fact, anyone can keep Jordan in front of them. If you go back far enough he'll stay in front of you and choose ("settle for") a midrange jumper instead. That is how he scored 63, Bird pulling back to not let Jordan go past him and dunk.

You can always avoid getting crossed or passed by if you stay back, far from the player. But that isn't optimal. You want to find the sweet spot, close enough so that he can't shoot comfortably, but far enough so he can't blow by you.

>You could argue that NBA players are the most elite athletes in the world.

That's true, in that one could argue many things that are laughingly and obviously false.

One could argue that Joe Biden would be a great choice to baby sit your 12-year-old daughter. (See?)

>In fact, many NFL wide receivers, including some in the NFL Hall of Fame (e.g. Cris Carter), have said they chose football because pro basketball was just too competitive.

Now you've gone from laughable hyperbole to outright lying.

Cris Carter is not "many NFL wide receivers," nor is he "some NFL hall of famers," and nor did he ever have the chance to play pro basketball. He almost played both sports in college but quit basketball immediately. And furthermore, the number of people with the body type required to succeed in both the NBA and NFL is zero, so your lie is ludicrous on its face anyway.

Other than all that -- great post!

Well, you sound nice.

And, of course, I was lying. You got me.

Cris Carter never played basketball in college, but he received scholarships just about everywhere expect top schools like Duke and Kentucky.

Here is the video of him discussing that he chose to play football because he thought it would be easier to make it to the pros than in basketball:


He is suggesting what I said, not what you did (where did I say Cris Carter had the opportunity to play pro basketball?). I'm not going to call you a liar, though. I think you likely just made a mistake.

Most importantly, however, to demonstrate how little you know about either sport, you need to understand something about body types in both sports. Almost every male body type is represented in the NFL. This is not true in basketball, but there is some overlap in the wide receiver and tight end positions.

Here is an article that discusses why NFL Hall of Famer Mark Murphy, who was Lebron James' defensive coordinator when Lebon played football in high school at St. Vincent, believes that Lebron James could have played in the NFL.

"I've been around a lot of great receivers," Murphy said. "I tell people that I rate my top receivers -- coaching, playing or watching -- as James Lofton, Jerry Rice, Steve Largent and LeBron James."


So, according to Cris Carter (one Hall of Famer), his judgement was that football was easier if you want a career in professional sports, and according to another, Mark Murphy, his judgment was that Lebron James was as good a wide receiver as three other NFL Hall of Famers.

But I still not going to call you a liar. I just hope you get even more angry and respond with some more nonsensical gibberish.

He does drive-by stupidity and then goes to the next thread to say something even more stupid. But he does seem pretty angry.

LeBron would have made a great tight end

Sorry, I think you're both mistaken.

Jordan didn't score 63 on Bird, he did so against the Boston Celtics. There's a difference. No team would ever guard Jordan with just one player. Just watch the tape.

And Steve, do you have an argument to support your opinion? Usually most people reveal their ignorance about basketball, so I won't demonstrate my knowledge about the sport unless you choose to engage and demonstrate that you have some.

Just listen to the players who tried to guard Jordan and Kobe, and listen to them explain how they see the differences.

Anyone can make accusations, but not many can support them.

See the answer on point 2 above.

And here's this:
"Third, while Jordan was dominate at getting open and making mid-range jumpers, most players in today's NBA are not nearly as skilled in the fundamentals to do that. It takes tremendous footwork and an uncommon level of balance and incredible body control to dominate the way he did. No one in today's NBA can do that;"

That is just so off. Everyone on the NBA now shoots floaters, one foot unbalanced shots (the one Dirk patented), and step backs. That was unheard of before the 2000s. Jordan's footwork is rudimentary compared to what they do now.

Well, Steve, where to start?

First, are you seriously suggesting that Michael Jordan's footwork was rudimentary? Have you ever watched him play? Magic Johnson shakes his head in disbelief when talking about how skilled Jordan's footwork was. He did so just recently in "The Last Dance" documentary. If you listen to Kobe discuss what Michael taught him about how to get off a turn-around jump shot (how to feel the opposing player's legs and make judgements about how the defender is positioned behind him, etc...), there is nothing rudimentary about it. It's incredibly sophisticated. Dirk was great, but I don't think many people would suggest he was in Jordan's league in terms of footwork or creating his own shot. Are you seriously suggesting that? Are you sure we're talking about Michael Jordan?

And I think my comment about Jordan's footwork and balance is how he scored 63 against the Celtics. That's what the tape shows. Fantastic footwork, fundamentals, and quickness allowed him to score that many points. I think you should go watch some clips of Michael Jordan play. There's probably more evidence of him dribbling past players to the rim than there is of any other player in NBA history. So, not everyone could keep Michael Jordan in front of them. The entire internet shows that this is true.

I honestly don't think we're talking about the same player.

Jordan was an extremely efficient and effective player. He did not, though, have unique moves. In contrast, Earl Monroe had unique spin moves that nobody has ever really matched. But there is a reason later generations haven't copied Monroe's moves: spinning horizontally is fascinating looking (and inspired reams of sportswriter copy comparing Earl the Pearl to various jazz musicians), but it doesn't really get you closer to the basket. Jordan, however, either was moving up and at the basket for a dunk or layup or falling away from his defender to get an open jumper. Jordan rarely did anything that made you say, "I've never seen that move before." Instead, he just did the smart thing and did it better on average than anybody else did it.

I don't recall Jordan innovating any shots like Nowitzki's wrong-foot jumper or Curry's extreme range shots. Jordan mostly just did what Dean Smith would want him to do, but he did it incredibly well.

These are fair points, Steve. I understand what you are saying. Jordan is not known for having a unique shot like Dirk or Curry. Although I would argue that he did become better at shooting the turn around jumper than anyone. This flowed out of extraordinary attention to details and fundamentals I would argue. You can't isolate this from his athletic ability, obviously.

However, I think many people would say that Jordan did things on a basketball court that no one else had seen before. It just wasn't a single, unique shot. It was a collection of different attributes that allowed him to make amazing plays when he left his feet once he got into the lane near the basket. Extraordinary leaping ability, gigantic hands that helped his game, and deceptive physical strength. Before him, the closest example of his play was probably Julius Erving.

So, I know what you're saying, but Jordan's abilities appear to me to be something pretty unique in terms of the number of ways he could score once he got into the lane. The uniqueness is not only in his fundamentals (which I think many former players who were around him say were more solid than any other player they were ever around), but different attributes that allowed him to dominate as a scorer in a way that had not being seen before.

"There's probably more evidence of him dribbling past players to the rim than there is of any other player in NBA history. So, not everyone could keep Michael Jordan in front of them. The entire internet shows that this is true."

I am sorry but you are just making it more obvious that you don't have a lot of practical experience in basketball.

James Harden gets past players not because he's fast or great at driving, but because he's a deadly shooter. Conversely, Jordan got to shoot a lot of midrange shots primarily because he was extremely good at driving inside. That's how basketball works.

Jordan of course was amazing. But Tyler is right, Lillard or Harden of today would shred those Celtics to pieces.

I'm sorry you feel that way, Steve. I really am.

Do you disagree with my statement in quotes? Because it's just a statement of what you can find on the internet. Nothing more, nothing less.

Regarding Jordan, he could shoot well enough where you had to keep him honest by playing him out on the perimeter. In that manner, same as Harden. This is later in his career, however.

Earlier in his career, the odds said that you were better playing off him to let him try and beat you with his jump shot.

All this adds up to is the you have to try and play defense against Michael Jordan. On that point we agree.

"Jordan didn't score 63 on Bird, he did so against the Boston Celtics. There's a difference. No team would ever guard Jordan with just one player. Just watch the tape. "

This statement is so off. As Tyler stated above, nobody knew how great Jordan would become. Bird during that series was already a known quantity while MJ was in his THIRD year in the NBA and coming off a broken foot the previous season that cost him 64 games, basically a whole season. Why would you rearrange your whole defense around an unknown green-behind-the-gills player who had a major injury? Ironically, by watching the tape, you would see that Jordan went mano-a-mano against the Celtics most of the game. Playoff time "Jordan Rules" didn't really take root until the late 80s Pistons came on the scene.

The 63 point game was when Jordan became a legend, but he was already famous. He hit the NCAA game-winning shot as a freshman and was College Player of the Year the next two years, and star of the 1984 Olympic team. And he was Rookie of the Year in 1985.

I was at a White Sox baseball game when they put it up on the scoreboard that Jordan had scored 63 against the mighty Celtics. The reaction was initial excitement followed by a lot of Chicagoans telling each other "Well of course he scored 63, he's Michael Jordan."

I'd argue Jordan was less famous in his first NBA year than say Lebron James and Lebron didn't have the college years to build his reputation.

The NBA was much less famous overall when Jordan entered the league. His rookie year he averaged 28.2, 6.5, 5.6, which made the hype even greater. Then he had a broken his second year and missed almost the entire regular season. The 63 point game was his announcement he was back. The next year he average 37.1 ppg, the most since Wilt.

"I'd argue Jordan was less famous in his first NBA year than say Lebron James"

At the beginning of Jordan's first year, sure. Jordan wasn't even the first player drafter, nor the second. So though there was plenty of anticipation about his potential, he was not an anointed superstar coming in.

His rookie year changed that. Rookie of the year (over Akeem/Hakeem), second team all-NBA (i.e. one of the top 10 players in the league). Only five players have averaged more points per game in their rookie season than Jordan did (Wilt, Bellamy, Oscar, Kareem, and Elvin Hayes -- Hall of Famers all).

So Jordan's greatness was plenty obvious to everyone by the end of his first year, as was his importance to the Bulls.

@Steve Sailer Ralph Sampson won almost every NCAA Player of the Year Award in '83. Jordan won in '84, but not both years.

It was still a big man's game at college and pro. There was no 3 pt line in the NCAA (other than conferences experimenting on occasion), and it was further back for the NBA. Sampson, Olajuwon, and Ewing were THE names in the NCAA. The Houston Rockets drafted Olajuwon #1 when they already had Sampson, because the Twin Towers approach was how you won.

@ Mickey D In terms of "fame," well, yeah, Lebron was more famous. ESPN wasn't showing HS basketball games when Jordan was young. James was more hyped, and probably would have been if the were the same age. He was just bigger and more developed as a HS senior. But, at the same time, the only reason James could be as famous as an NBA rookie as he was, is because of Jordan (and Nike and Gatorade). The NBA is pretty clear #2 pro sports league in the US now. That is Jordan's doing (and David Stern's) more than anybody else.

Thanks. Looking it up, I see that Ralph Sampson won 5 of the 6 different college player of the year awards in 1983 and Jordan won the other one. In 1984, Jordan won all the awards.

"MJ was in his THIRD year in the NBA and coming off a broken foot the previous season"

Not to wade into the overall debate, but just minor correction: As TC mentions in the post, this game Jordan's second season and it was the same season he missed 64 regular-season games to a broken foot.

This is unrelated to what I said.

This has nothing to do with double teams or the Jordan rules. I meant that one Celtics player would not guard Jordan for the entire duration of the game as the previous commenter suggested.

I was never suggesting that the Boston Celtics should have rearranged their defense around Jordan. I was simply observing that Michael Jordan scored 63 points against the Boston Celtics, not against Larry Bird alone.

I honestly don't know what sentiment you were responding to.

You could argue that NBA players are the most elite athletes in the world.

Why would that be the case? They might be the best athletes among the subset of athletes who are at least a couple of standard deviations above the average height, but that's about it. This means that simply being very tall gives you a good chance of becoming an NBA player even if you're athletically mediocre. Competition for entry to say top European soccer clubs is orders of magnitude greater. Basketball isn't even that big a sport in most countries.

You could argue that NBA players are the most elite athletes in the world.

You've based that on your extensive knowledge of the physical attributes and skills required to play the many sports not common in the US? e.g. rugby (union and league), cricket, Aussie Rules, netball, hurling, gaelic football etc. etc. Please, do tell.

The quality of play in the NBA likely bottomed out in the late 1970s-early 1980s, then improved considerably over the 1980s before going downhill briefly in the later 1990s when free throw shooting percentages dropped.

The Game of the Week on TV in 1981 almost always featured the Lakers, the Celtics, or the 76ers. Those were quality franchises that usually gave a professional effort. Games between lesser teams, however, could be terrible. You could get the impression watching a game on cable between also-rans that the players just wanted to get back to the hotel and do cocaine.

My guess would be that cocaine usage by NBA players dropped considerably over the course of the 1980s and the games became more fun to watch.

Huge Bullies fan here....i lived there 80's/90's...didn"t miss a game. Few pts
-Oakley was always introduced as 6'8" He didn't look that tall. He was MJ's body guard, a great rebounder/above avg defender...pretty one dimensional. Centers much more valued then. Yes Oakley trade opened things up for Horace Grant but Cartwright trade was made w/ his ability to defend big men(esp Ewing who he guarded in practice for 2 yrs) Cartwright also had good hands as did Will Perdue and Luc Longley after him
2-The game was a different sport. MJ and Scottie were always the best 2 defenders on court. Every game they played. MJ once remarked that Joe Dumars was his toughest defender. I'd argue that
3-those Bulls/Pistons conference finals games would be as alien to the modern game as the OT Boston game
4-MJ's career has unusual arc w/ baseball hiatus..his each and every White Sox at bat in minor league games intensely scrutinized. The subsequent 3 peat and Rodman acquisition a joy to watch(sorry huge Bulls fan)...Scottie selected as top 50 of all time(forget what yr that was) is still underrated

I disagree regarding McHale. The game was much more physical back then and there was better more intense defense. McHale was 6'10" and had good footwork and great low post moves. Most importantly, he had extremely long arms that looked like they were proportional if he were half a foot taller. He could score at will in the post against athletic defenders and was a decent passer who would pass out of double teams, so I don't see why today's softer game would stop him.

I also disagree that today's soft 3 point chucking oriented game is faster than the 80s game. Check out on Youtube the videos of the Sixers Celtics playoffs games in the early 80s. Very physical, intense, and fast. Players went all out on every possession. Sixers had athletic high flyers like Dr J, Darryl Dawkins, and Bobby Jones. Celtics kept up with them. One game in particular, I think an Eastern Conference final game in Philly, a Celtics player shoved an old fan in the stands and there wasn't even any technical foul called. They just continued playing. Scuffles and fights didn't lead to tech fouls and stoppages. They just continued the physical play. So much better than today's lame soft 3rd point based game. An overrated twerp like Curry would never have been able to put up the numbers he does back in the 80s. He would've been sent to the deck a few times and gotten the message.

The defensive game was not more intense. In fact that was where most players took a breather like it was an all-star game. Look at the scores back then and you'll see it what I mean.

Bulls/Pistons?/ Bulls/Knicks ?

I wrote in 2017:

Back in the 1970s, blacks were clearly better on average on the offensive side of basketball. But many whites believed, with some reason, that white players tended to be stronger on defense. For example, in 1977 and 1978, the first two seasons after the merger of the NBA and the ABA, the NBA’s All-Defensive first team consisted of three white players -- Bill Walton, Bobby Jones, and Don Buse -- and only two blacks. Walton, when uninjured, was an all-time great, but Jones and Buse were the kind of white defensive specialists who were common forty years ago but are rare now.

It was not that blacks lacked natural ability to play defense, but in the 1970s they didn't always try. The kind of feckless matador defense that only bearded offensive superstar James Harden can get away with these days was common back then.

Four decades later, however, a white player hasn't been first-team All-Defensive since Andrei Kirilenko eleven years ago.

What happened? My (admittedly unscientific) impression is that playing defense became fashionable among African-Americans with the rise of Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown U. teams. Coach John Thompson gave his defense-oriented squads a black nationalist vibe, and since then black players have taken pride in tough defense as a Black Thing.

In 1977’s NBA, fifteen blacks and eleven whites were named to the All-Star Game. This year, only three out of 25 All-Stars were white.

So blacks have gotten better at basketball by exerting themselves.


For a short period there was also an East/West divide re defense too.
Rodman a critical part of 2nd 3 peat...

"blacks...didn't always try"
"admittedly unscientific"

Well, that's just summed up a Steve Sailer post (some of it unadmittedly, I think) as well as anything ever could.

Bill Cartwright in his 30s was highly effective even though he appeared to be awkward and had painful looking knees. Like I said, a great trade by the Bulls.

Later the Bulls acquired Ron Harper, another beat up 30 something who seemingly could barely hobble around anymore. And he was effective too.

So even though everybody hated Bulls GM Jerry Krause, he made some good moves.

Jordan, Pippen, and Grant might have been the three best mid-sized defenders ever on one team up to that point: here they are in 1993 stopping Knick Charles Smith four times in a row right under the basket:


I suspect Jordan changed the culture of basketball by trying so incredibly hard on defense almost all the time. Before Jordan, it was common for the best scorer to turn in a lot of James Harden-style matador plays on the defensive end as he rested up to go back on offense.

There is no question that the 1980's had more rough play than is tolerated today. The attached clip from the 1987 Celtics-Piston game is typical. At about the 19 second mark, see what Robert Parish does to Bill Laimbeer. And no foul was called!! The great Bill Simmons suggests that the refs also hated Bill Laimbeer, the dirtiest player of his era....


Imagine a TC type, in 1986, saying "I was riding my exercise bike, and I put on this grainy film reel a friend of mine dug up from the 1952 NBA Finals. Here are my thoughts:" And then most of the thoughts are to the effect that George Mikan doesn't look quite as impressive he was reputed to be, and that Slater Martin wold struggle to adapt to the 1986 game, and that everybody at the time didn't quite realize what, in 1986, seemed obvious.

Would any of this be surprising?

in mid late '80's the game of early 70's was already pretty archaic. Knlcks/Lakers 70 final was on other night...any Piston/Bull team would have crushed 1970 version of either team...think Bill Russell would have slid into 70's/80's/90's/any era pretty easy...Wilt not so much

Wilt's lack of fine motor skills in his fingers meant he really wasn't a good offensive player when other players finally caught up with him in height and jumping ability after about a decade in the NBA.

That was the point of the Willis Reed Game in the 1970 final. With Reed out in Game 6, Wilt scored 45 because Wilt could still feast on second string centers like it was 1962 all over again. But Reed returning for Game 7 psyched the Lakers out because Hall of Fame centers like Reed had finally caught up to defending Wilt.

He'd still be a dominant shot blocker/rebounder today, however.

My instinct exactly. Conditioning knowledge and awareness are so much greater today, including expert use of performance-enhancing substances. Gerald Ford was drafted by the Packers as a CENTER, he weighted about 180 pounds. (He went to law school instead, probably he imagined he could be president some day.)

Anybody who has played sports has been on teams where the best player was also the practice taskmaster. Those were the worst practices, and the best teams.

Whenever people compare modern sports vs. past eras, they alway leave out one of the most crucial differences: the rules. Sports aren't natural exercises. They are games played with rules and those have changed over time. Here's a piece on why MJ would still be great today. Notice No. 3, "The rules have made offense easier."No hand-checking is one example given.

Tyler makes some good points. And the long-delayed rise of the three-pointer is a fascinating topic.

It's also always fascinating to try to compare teams from different periods. I think a modern team would beat this Celtics team because, like in most fields, things have advanced.

It's more interesting to me to ask, If the players and coaches on the Celtics team developed in the modern time, what would the team look like? They almost certainly wouldn't be playing both Parrish and McHale on the floor at the same time. And just as certainly, if a team were to defend them - this team with a modern Larry Bird - there is no way on heaven or Earth that McHale would be the one they were swarming. And McHale would put up good numbers as a result.

This Celtics team was just too talented. Five Hall of Famers on that team! In a modern development program, they would be one of the best teams in the modern NBA.

Also, point 7 overlooks BIrd, and not surprisingly. Bird was the most deceptive player ever to play the game. No one faked better. Here he is against a Hall of Famer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OGve-YDmGU

If Larry Bird had grown up with the 3 point line, he likely would have been a near Curry-level 3 point shooter.

Salaries at that time:

Boston Celtics Total: $6,560,000
Larry Bird ..................... 1,800,000
Kevin McHale ................... 1,000,000
Dennis Johnson ................. 782,500
Robert Parish .................. 700,000
Danny Aigne .................... 550,000
Sly Williams ................... 450,000
Bill Walton .................... 425,000
Scott Wedman ................... 400,000
Greg Kite ...................... 150,000
Jerry Sichting ................. 125,000
Rick Carlisle .................. 90,000
Sam Vincent .................... 87,500

Chicago Bulls Total: $4,486,000
George Gervin .................. 806,000
Dave Corzine ................... 710,000
Michael Jordan ................. 630,000
Sidney Green ................... 350,000
Quintin Dailey ................. 325,000
Kyle Macy ...................... 305,000
Orlando Woolridge .............. 300,000
Eugene Banks ................... 225,000
Charles Oakley ................. 225,000
Jawann Oldham .................. 175,000
John Paxson .................... 175,000
Mike Smerk ..................... 135,000
Billy McKinney ................. 125,000

Just took a look at Michael Jordan vs. Scottie Pippen. It is $2.1Billion vs. $20M. Is MJ 100x better than Scottie? I assume those figures are directionally correct. Unbelievable !!

The eras aren't directly comparable because of the greatly increased importance of the 3 point shot in today's game.

If players had to make their living inside the 3 point line, you'd quickly see a resurgence of the Patrick Ewing style center and the midrange jump shot.

I have the sneaking suspicion that with the current 3 point lines, especially in college, the dominant strategy is going to be the Grinnell style:

1) Play no defense
2) Don't try to rebound
3) On offense, throw up a 3 point shot as quickly as you can

They might not be as explicit as the Grinnell coach is at emphasizing points 1 and 2, but point 3 seems to be where basketball is headed.

#1 is not true at all. Teams using the Grinnell system use more fullcourt pressure, and double-team the ball, more than any other teams I've ever seen.

As a result, they give up a ton of easy layups. But their attitude is: big deal, we gave up 2 points; five seconds from now we're going to score 3.

#2 is also not true. They make maximum efforts to rebound their misses (of which there are plenty because they're shooting so many 3-pointers). Again at the expense of giving up easy fast break layins, but the idea is to give themselves as many shooting opportunities as possible by grabbing as many offensive rebounds as possible. Also if the opposition is running fast breaks, then they're getting more tired which is exactly what Grinnell wants, because Grinnell subs in 5-man lines about every minute or so, continual waves of fresh legs who are used to playing at a blistering pace all game.

What is true is that although it took decades and innovation from Dampier to Pitino to D'Antoni to Spoelstra to Morey for NBA coaches to realize that their teams should be shooting more 3-pointers. Even Popovich played a role, there was a time when his Spurs teams shot a lot more 3-pointers than the average NBA team did, despite Popovich's continual dislike of the rule.

And like Popovich, I recognize that it's a winning strategy but I've never liked the 3-point rule, it over-rewards the long shot, to say nothing of the desperation buzzer-beating heaves at the end of each quarter. If it were possible to give 2.5 points instead of 3, that would probably be a good balance for the NBA. Unfortunately the fans and sportswriters will never agree to keeping score with fractions of points.

I watch a lot of old sports: English First Division soccer, old World Cup soccer, 1980's NBA ('83 Sixers were pretty tough), and old NHL. I find the games more interesting, more gritty, competitive, and the players more compelling to watch than the current contests. In this particular game (Prime Celtics vs. early Jordan,) many all time greats are on display. Robert Parish who played more games than anyone in NBA history, 1,611, started off the game stuffing Jordan's drive to the basket and was (unhappily) called for goaltending. It sent a signal to Jordan for sure. Jordan's jumper was still relatively weak at this point in his career and he had yet to get into the "strength training" that became a differentiator for him. Bird is among the greatest shooters of all time (and passers, and rebounders, and competitors.) McHale was known to have the greatest low-post game and moves in history, essentially unstoppable. Walton could have been the greatest big man (or player for that matter) in history, but his feet could not handle the demands of the pro game. Walton was much bigger than his listed 6'11", some say as much as 7'4", and could shoot, rebound, dribble, pass, move, and was all NBA defensive team. He played on the US National Team, in the world championships while still in high school. In his prime, which may have been at UCLA, he took the big man game to a whole new level. Agree with all about Halberstam's portrait of the Trailblazers, Breaks of the Game, is one of the all time great sports books. It is clear that there is a lot more defense, offensive rebounding, passing and physical play in the old style game. I find it more interesting to watch. Great athletes across all era's...would Dr. J do OK in today's game?

Odd that no one has mentioned that the Celtics won all 3 games, including that one, by an average of 14 points per game. It's almost as if they decided that they would let Jordan beat them once but not three times, and he failed to beat them once.

About 98 percent of male babies in the USA can never be major league (as in MLB) hitters because they lack a certain level of unusually apt connections between a certain class of neurons and another class of neurons in the brains they were given at birth. It as simple as that. All that bs you heard about getting to the major leagues on grit alone was wrong, Same thing with elite fighter pilots, slalom skiers, and ballet dancers.

Worldwide, at least 90 percent of males are too short to have a one in a million chance at making the NBA - and those who have that one in a million chance have to live and breathe basketball,waking and sleeping, every minute of their lives to even have a chance to be a sub (little Maravich, little Kobe are outliers - and trust me, the big guys thought of them as little guys).

!00 percent of males, with one or two exceptions per billion, have absolutely no chance of performing, if they go in for gymnastics, the spins and twirls and somersaults that the top one percent of small women can perform for a few years, if they delay menopause.

We all know that almost all Himalayan mountaineers (at least the ones who did not die before submitting) have an unusual genetic gift with relation to their lungs and the way their lungs process oxygen. If you do not have those genes, you are gonna die if you push yourself as far as the guys who have the genes.

So calm down, people, while all of us might want to make the bucks that the freaks of nature make, nobody believes us when we talk about them as if they were great athletes simply because of inspiration.

With very few exceptions, all the people in sports who are considered at the top level (Jordan, Michael Phillips, Babe Ruth, little Pele, Serena Williams, Vince Lombardi, Roger Federer) are freaks of nature.
Very few of us know any professional athletes, but the fact is, lots of us know people who are only good at what they do because they are freaks of nature.

Every single such person does not consider his or her self lucky. They would all prefer to be normal people, as I know from long long conversations with extraordinary creatures.

The ones who are not complete scumbags are interesting, but only in the way that any human being who fights off the temptation to be a jerk is interesting, No more than that.

But it gives us something to talk about.

By the way, if you are interested in basketball and the graphic arts, check out "Turkey Red". Good investment, interesting product.

menarche, not menopause, and 100, not !oo

summitting, not submitting. I gave my proofreader the afternoon off today.

Len Bias’ death was the nail in the coffin for those Celtics.

OK but the cool kids are watching marble races

Tennis is my favorite sport. Roger Federer is my favorite tennis player. I'm impressed from his technique and shots. Definitely love watching his matches.

Comments for this post are closed