Michael Jordan makes the layup and brings the Bulls within one. There are 37 seconds left in game 6 of 1998 NBA Finals. Their whole season is hanging on a thread. The Jazz have the ball in their hands, and their Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton gives the ball to Karl Malone on the left block. A go-to play they ran for a couple of times prior. However, this time Jordan was on week side. He leaves his defensive assignment, doubles Malone and swats the ball out of his hands. The rest, as we know, is history. Jordan comes down the other end and hits a game-winning mid-range jumper, sealing their last dance together.
Huge defensive play by Jordan that often gets overshadowed by his clutch shot on the other end. A play that in today’s NBA would’ve surely been challenged by Jerry Sloan. And who would’ve blamed him? Jordan didn’t take the ball from Malone – he swatted it. And it was a risky play. The Bulls were already over the foul limit by that point of the fourth quarter, so had Jordan made any contact with Malone, he would’ve gone to the free-throw line and possibly changed the whole outcome of the game. Keep in mind that Malone was a 6’9″ 250 pounds freight train and was one of the strongest players in the league. Him holding the ball, and Jordan coming from behind and hitting it as hard as possible makes the whole play looks suspicious at least. Unfortunately for Sloan, he couldn’t do anything about it.
Today’s coaches can. Just remember the Christmas game between the Lakers and the Clippers – specifically, how it ended. The refs reviewed Beverly‘s block on LeBron. A play that for 75 years would’ve been called of the player who made the block, due to power of technology was ruled in favor of the Clippers. Something fairly evident for everyone has been proven to be wrong by the frame-by-frame checkup. Lakers’ fans were furious, feeling they were deprived of another opportunity to tie the game. But at the end of the day, the refs made the right call.
The question arises about the impact of instant replay on the flow and the consistency of the game. Some argue that in the attempt to make things better, it is making the game worse. And I can understand their point, especially when your team gets on the wrong side of the frame-by-frame slowdown. However, shouldn’t it be about making the right call? Because the wrong one will never be made with the help of technology. I think it’s more about the adjustment period today’s players are through. It will take time for them to face both sides of the benefit, which will fully adjust them to the new conditions.
The fact is it is interfering with the flow of the game. Having to wait for refs to review the play, taking minutes to decide what the right call is can be strenuous for players and can get them out of the rhythm. This is understandable, and I’m sure that the whole process will be sped-up and much more efficient than it is today in its initial stage.
Seeing Jordan make that defensive play on Malone one more time made me think about how different could the whole outcome be if today’s benefits were applied to coaches back then. It also made me appreciative of the fact that they weren’t, because of a historical way it all ended. That being said, the full implementation of technology in the NBA has been inevitable, given that it is being implemented in all sports around the world.
Until this whole process is more efficient to the point, it’s not a nuisance to the players anymore; we should all appreciate the plays that were not ruined by the substantial technological dissection.