One of the main criticisms of today’s game is the lack of physicality compared to previous eras. With no hand-checking and every significant contact being called, offensive players get a lot more protection to the refs. While it did contribute to more movement and points being scored, not everyone agrees, it made the game better. I would expect this to be a standard “kids today are soft like charmin'” argument, but Kobe Bryant surprised me.
Two years after his retirement in 2016, Kobe talked about the NBA and the lack of physical play in the modern NBA. This is the point where retired players start talking about how it was more difficult back in their day, and they would put up monster stats if only they got to play in today’s “soft” NBA. Kobe did start with that.
“It’s more competitive, you get to see players go mano-a-mano a little bit as opposed to, ‘oh my god, he put a hand on me, it’s a foul’. That’s got to go.”Kobe Bryant, Reuters
Breaking news, Kobe likes to see people go mano-a-mano; maybe even mano-a-everyone. Jokes aside, it’s not surprising Kobe loves to see players battle it out in a more physical manner, Mamba never shied away from contact and conflict. Where Kobe’s argument changes from most veterans were that it’s not as much about cheap machismo and measuring the size of ones…you get the idea.
“It challenges players to improve their skill level because now if you can hand check and things like that, you really must be fundamentally sound. You must be able to handle the ball to be able to get past defenders.”Kobe Bryant, Reuters
I don’t think I ever heard a player make a point like this from a skill-based point of view. The conventional thinking is that players today are more skilled, but delicate little flowers. Following Kobe’s logic, they wouldn’t make the cut in a more physical era, not because of their lack of toughness but because of lack of skill. It’s easier to be a good passer and ball-handler when people can’t touch you.
Maybe that’s why Kobe was following European basketball more back in the day. European players are often labeled as soft, but Kobe seems to think that the trend is changing.
“I feel like European basketball is more physical than the NBA is right now.”Kobe Bryant, Reuters
This is the first time a veteran/retired player made a “back in my day” case that I didn’t consider to be nostalgia mixed with machismo. There is something to Kobe’s argument, but I’d still take a random game from 2020 over a random game from the hand-checking era.