Time changes everything. That is a fact of life. Especially in sports, where trends tend to come and go, players evolve, and the game becomes better or worse over time. Basketball is the perfect example of that, as the evolution of the NBA has really been drastic from its beginnings in the 1940s to today.
The contrast of styles that is not everybody's cup of tea
Did it change for the better or, the worse is up to an individual's preference, but one thing is for certain. The players have become more skilled than ever, but does that necessarily mean that the game has improved?
Basketball used to be much slower and based around team-play, but that has drastically changed over the decades. The implementation of the 24-second shot clock,three-point line, and various other rules and components slowly upped the pace of the game and gradually brought us to the style of play we have today. Fast, offense-oriented, and revolving around the three-point shot, basketball has never been as flashy.
With the game evolving, players themselves naturally evolved as well. Nowadays, we have more multi-skilled players than ever, as you have to be a swiss army knife to be elite in today's game. Range, shot-creating ability, handles, vision, defense, and more are all attributes that the best players of today have in their bag. But that wasn't always the case. Players used to be focused solely on one or two of these attributes that were critical for their position. Big men shooting outside the paint was an anomaly for most of the NBA's history, while nowadays, it is hard to find a player in the NBA that can't shoot the three-ball. Well, except for Ben Simmons.
That evolution of players is often overlooked, especially by old-school fans who still romanticize about the retro eras of the NBA. Sure, that game had its charm and a competitive side that revolved more around rugged play and defense, but that doesn't mean today's game is any worse or less interesting. On the contrary, you could easily say that players today are more skilled than the players of the past.
JJ Redick with the hot takes
Now former NBA player, podcaster, and most recently ESPN analyst, JJ Redick, recently went on a rant on his podcast, as he talked about the evolution of NBA basketball and shared a few hot takes. In JJ's mind, players of the past get honored because of the historical context. They were great in their era and transcendent for the sport. But when compared with the players of today, they don't stand a chance. A good example is this pretty controversial opinion regarding Kevin Love:
"Honestly Kevin Love is better than 99% of the power forwards that made that list."Redick said.
Redick elaborated on his stance and shared another comparison from his former teammate Austin Rivers:
"I've tried to provide some middle ground where I acknowledge their greatness in their era. But one of my favorite things that any player has ever said is when Austin Rivers said if he played against Bob Cousy, he would be a Hall of Famer...because he is not wrong."
JJ Redick, The Old Man and the Three
We often hear old-school players diss the new generations, calling them soft and doubting they could hold their own in their eras, but Redick is having none of that, as he went to the complete opposite side of the spectrum, claiming players today could play in any era, while players from the early years of the NBA (outside the legends) couldn't find their way in the modern NBA:
"Here is my issue with the old-timers when they shit on us, saying we couldn't play in their era..I would say this, and I don't think this is a hot take..most NBA players in today's era could play in any era in the NBA. Most NBA players from the 50s, 60s, early 70s could not play in today's NBA. I think that's reality. Of course, you have Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain...the top ten or so players from that era, but the talent from 1 to 450 is through the roof."
JJ Redick, The Old Man and the Three
Although this may sound disrespectful at first, Redick actually made a very good and concise point. In their era, these players were great. For the way basketball was being played and the conditions under which they played, some of these guys made the best of it.
But that doesn't mean guys like Dave Bing, Dolph Schayes, or Hal Greer are remotely as good basketball players as Kyrie Irving, Tracy McGrady, Klay Thompson, Dwight Howard, etc. It's all about the historical context and appreciation of the contribution these guys gave to the game of basketball in their time. That is just the reality, and I think Redick explained that very well.