Why do the people who get to talk about the NBA on TV seem to actually hate the NBA?
Whether it’s on ESPN, Inside the NBA or even some local broadcasts, these studio shows are filled with Hall of Famers. Shaquille O’Neal. Charles Barkley. Tracy McGrady. Scottie Pippen. Those are the types of players people will tell their children they saw on a basketball court.
Their greatness is undeniable, but they certainly don’t believe that’s the case for the modern NBA superstar. How long have fans tuned in to see Shaq dismiss an All-Star center from the 2010s or to hear Barkley proclaim that jump-shooting teams have completely eradicated a once proud sport?
With the way they complain about nearly every facet of today’s NBA, it’s worth wondering if they even enjoy the game they now serve as ambassadors for.
What is this sport’s standing when Barkley is calling the Lakers’ big man “Anthony ‘Street Clothes’ Davis” because of his injury history, only to see Davis re-injure himself while gutting it out through the pain in this year’s playoffs?
Howie Long and Michael Strahan don’t spend Sunday mornings in the fall talking about Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt never being able to survive in their respective eras. Current stars like Rob Gronkowski go on the show and they all mingle, laugh and shoot the breeze knowing they all will be together in Canton one day. There’s camaraderie. There’s respect among the different generations while knowing how much the NFL has changed.
Retired NBA greats are scared that the accomplishments of contemporary players will erase them from basketball history. Just the opposite is true. Recognizing today’s stars lends itself to a mutual respect that will preserve the integrity of the game past, present and future. Think of it like the Time Variance Authority in Loki. Protect the timeline. Protect the history of big men from Bill Russell to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaq to Joel Embiid. Protect the passing gene that has been trickled down from Oscar Robertson to Magic Johnson to John Stockton to Chris Paul.
If the stars of yesterday and the analysts of today want to spew straight lies about the NBA in 2021, it simply leads to the youngest of fans to think these old-school dudes are nothing but annoying. Someone watching their first NBA postseason this summer would get the idea that the league is devoid of great players. In reality, star talent is overflowing throughout the league, from classic basketball towns like New York and Philadelphia to smaller markets like Milwaukee and Memphis.
This isn’t a call to brand all national basketball analysis as “Fake News.” It feels more than fair to simply want a cast of ex-players who aren’t obsessed with defensive hand-checking and who aren’t enraged when a player no longer wants to play for a franchise that has failed them.
No North America pro sports league possesses the marketing power for individual athletes like the NBA. Players are, quite literally, their own brands. It should be rather easy to shine light on their brilliance without fostering insecurities. James Harden’s scoring eruptions do nothing to take away from what Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan once did on the court. Embiid draining threes in the playoffs shouldn’t warrant screams about Shaq’s post game in 2000.
The artistry of NBA legends, past and present, is beyond question. The way basketball is talked about right now, however, is, as one man would say, “Turrible.”
Shamus Clancy is a freelance writer from Philadelphia. He is a diseased Eagles fan, an emo concert attendee and a loyal follower of the X-Men.
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