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Remember when the NBA wasn't soft?


Watching the Pelicans - Celtics game the other night, my focus and attention shifted from the great game to something else. Early in the 4th quarter, JJ Redick was ejected after getting his second technical because of passing the ball to the ref after the whistle.

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Why? I guess the ref didn't like how the ball bounced to him. I have no other explanation. It wouldn't be such a big deal if I didn't notice a similar situation happening more often. NBA referees have become too trigger-happy on the whistle regarding calling fouls and especially technicals. It's driving me crazy, as it takes away so much from the pure emotion and beauty of the game.

This has been a topic of discussion for some time now, with many basketball fans from the '80s and '90s continually complaining about the NBA becoming too soft. And I think they have a good point. There is a reason why so many fans still romanticize those old-school days of basketball that are often called the golden-age instead of paying attention to the game today. It is a paradox because when you look in detail, you can see that the league has so much more talent and depth today, as the game and the players have evolved to another level. So why do fans like the old school way better?

Back then, the game was about players and pure basketball. You could play defense hard without worrying about getting fouls, hand-check, trash-talk, taunt and be free on the court. Those conditions provided us with some of the best rivalries between players and teams we have ever seen. The refs were a lot tougher and willing to let the players play, do their job, and stay in the background. I mean, just look at Dennis the Menace.

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Players like Rodman, Payton, Barkley, Bird, Jordan, and other trash talkers are hard or impossible to find in today's NBA. But you can't really blame the players because if they try to do anything similar to that, they will get problematic repercussions. How has that happened?

The NBA has become a global sport. All that attention brought a lot of positives. Still, it resulted in the NBA having to be careful of managing what they put out to the world, or to be more specific, being politically correct.

That has resulted in the league instructing referees to penalize any "bad" behavior. So any trash-talking or taunting leads to technicals or ejections, as players are expected to be robots on the court. I understand the point of view in which you want to keep the game clean and civil while protecting the players, but you have to allow some passion and competitiveness on the court.

We are all fans because we love the game of basketball. But when you add some fire to it, some competitiveness and sportsmanlike hatred between teams, it becomes so much interesting because you invest your emotions into that. The players need to express themselves and have the luxury of being natural on the court without having to worry about getting thrown out.

Hopefully, the NBA can do a better job in the future of maintaining a balance between having a clean game with the added spice of players trying to get the best out of each other on the court without being penalized. After all, the fans pay money to watch the players play, not the refs' referee.

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