BOSTON – The moment for which many of us have been waiting and hoping and quietly pleading finally arrived on Tuesday.
A current NBA star took a few moments to spit fire toward former NBA stars who so casually disparage today’s players as being infinitely softer and somehow inferior to those with whom they played.
Thank you, Draymond Green, for calling out the paper tigers and the cranky experts so often determined to revise history.
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At the podium between Games 2 and 3 of the NBA Finals, Draymond was asked if anyone from the past “inspired” his willingness to engage verbally and physically, a topic raised in the wake of his brief skirmish with Celtics forward Grant Williams in Game 2 Sunday at Chase Center.
Draymond said his style was formed on his hometown, Saginaw, Mich., a blue-collar city that has spawned dozens of athletes to the NBA and NFL. He also shouted out Gary Payton, who along with former Celtic Cedric Maxwell, was delighted with the physicality and trash talk between Green and Williams.
Maxwell, however, said Draymond would have been “knocked the f--k out” during his era. That was the phrase that turned up his internal heat.
“Obviously, growing up I watched guys like Gary Payton, Rasheed Wallace,” Green said. “I watched all those guys and how they went about their business. Dennis Rodman. Seeing those guys over the years, and I have a huge appreciation for Uncle Oak (Charles Oakley), how he enforced things. That's a part of the game. That is a skill. I have a huge appreciation for those guys.
Golden State Warriors
“I saw what Cedric Maxwell said.”
And that’s where Draymond shifted his disgust into another gear.
“One thing that baffles me about the '80s or the '90s, or whenever you want to call it when basketball was so much more physical, is some of the guys that be talking weren't the guys that were punching people,” Green said. “They act like guys was just walking around the court, like, ‘I'm hitting this guy in the nose.’ There were a few guys back then that would lay you out, that would knock you out, that would foul you and get thrown out the game. Bill Laimbeer. Rick Mahorn.
“But everybody running around acting like they were that, y'all were getting bullied. So, it baffles me when every guy, just because they played in the '80s, just because they played in the '90s, is like, man, if you played in our day, you'd get knocked out. No, not really, because it wouldn't be you.”
Laimbeer and Mahorn were the Motor City hit men of the Detroit Pistons during their Bad Boys era. Draymond was in diapers during that time, but he clearly heard stories and has seen highlights culled from those teams, who won back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990.
But Draymond didn’t let his sermon end there. Of course, he didn’t. Today’s NBA players clapping back with the blowhards of yesteryear is high entertainment in 2022, when debate devolves into division, which can breed disgust – but can be TV ratings gold.
Sometimes, but not always, there is a tone of levity. Or spirited barbershop dialogue between generations.
And, here, Draymond was trying to make sense of it. He concluded, rightfully, that there is no sense to be made.
“When guys get to making these comparisons or talking about, ‘Oh, if you played in this day and age,’ . . .” Green said. “And if you played in this day and age you would have had to be way more skilled than you were. It's just different.
“Comparing the physicality of the game and everybody acting like they were just the most physical and brutal enforcers, it's like everybody acting like they shoot the ball like Steph Curry today.”
Draymond was openly questioning the authenticity of those players who words in 2022 bear no resemblance to their deeds in 1992. Truth is, many are frauds. The game was beautiful at times in the 1980s and the 1990s. It was beautiful at times in the 2010s and now in the 2020s.
Rules changed, so the game changed too.
“Then it was physical, now it's shooting,” Green said. “Everybody can't shoot the ball. Imagine me in 20 years, like, man, if you played in my day you had to shoot. Like, yeah, guys did shoot better and more. But that don't mean you shot that well.”
Today’s game is mostly about the depth and 3-point shooting and variance of skill, with players who might have been centers in the 1980s flashing guard-like artistry. There is, unquestionably, more finesse.
Yesteryear’s NBA was more about stature and structure and will. Bring your muscle, punk or get “punked.” Though it provided plenty of fantastic games and moments, quality depth across the league was severely limited.
From 1980 through 1998, 18 of the 19 championships were divided by only five teams: Lakers, Celtics, Pistons, Bulls and Rockets.
In the 23 seasons since, there have been 10 different champions.
Different league. Better league. One that doesn’t deserve the ridicule or scorn that comes its way for the sake of pointless “debate.”