The NBA landscape completely changed when the league entirely dismissed the hand-checking rule. Players were no longer able to control a ball handler’s movement by steering them at their will. It removed the physical aspect of the game, increasing the overall pace and giving more freedom to guards, especially to those with smaller body frames. This made the life of perimeter players much more comfortable.
The removal of the hand-checking rule presents the split between two types of NBA play styles. People gladly engage in discussions about how each player would adjust playing in a different era under different circumstances, no matter how futile those discussions are. There is no better person to discuss the issue with than a player who’s career spanned multiple eras. Vince Carter gave his thoughts on the subject, saying that players who played with the hand-checking rule would adjust easier to today’s game, just because of the lack of physicality with which today’s basketball is being played.
“That’s the one thing I do think, being that I’ve played in both eras. I think the adjustment for someone like Mike or guys coming from that era to what it is now is easier, because when you’re playing and somebody’s hand-checking you, bumping you, and that was legal, that’s just what it was. If you’re adjusting to the way the game is now when they can’t touch you, and they can’t bump you, and that’s now illegal, that’s just like ‘Oh, that’s a foul?’. So if you’re trying to take a player and put him back into the old style of play where hand-checking was, that’s going to be a real adjustment period because anytime you touch a player now it’s a foul.”Vince Carter, via Winging It Podcast
The overall climate around the league was different; physicality wasn’t something indictable – it was implied. It wasn’t something that the refs were tolerating – they encouraged it. You had no other option than to adjust. It took Carter some time to get used to it, but it was frustrating at times, especially in the beginning.
“And you’re asking the ref for the foul. So when you asked the ref for a foul back in the day, the ref would say to you ‘quit crying and play the game.’ I remember playing against Pip for the first time. The way he would hold and grab, I’m like ‘Ref! You don’t see this?’ He’s like ‘play ball, I don’t see anything.’ Like ‘come one man. Y’all tripping right now.’ That’s just what it was. And so you had to figure out how to get by it and how to be still the player you want to be with guys bumping you, beating on you, and being the main focus.”Vince Carter, via Winging It Podcast
Although Carter’s overall though is that today’s players would struggle with hand-checking, he did single out LeBron as the one player who could adjust to it. The logic behind his choice is how much a player is basing his game on physicality. That being said, more players fit in the group of freight trains like LeBron, but Carter is saying that they are exceptions in today’s players’ pole.
“I personally think LeBron can and would adjust to it. When he wants to be a physical player, he’s a physical player. We’ve seen LeBron when he turns into the night train. Now it’s just able to cope with the physicality and the beating that you would take the night in and night out. That’s just the thing I think a lot of guys would struggle with.”Vince Carter, via Winging It Podcast
The hand-checking era rewarded physicality. It also wholly eliminated certain play styles. Playstyles that came to life after it’s removal. Some players would’ve been excellent no matter the era. They are talented enough to adjust to different settings. And there are ones who would struggle to play in different circumstances, and who were lucky enough to play in the league when their skills stood out. Then some players were born at the wrong time when their skills don’t fit the league’s requirements.
Carter was a player who, at the start of his career, heavily relied on his freakish athleticism. He felt on his own skin how it was to be continuously bumped and beaten on. Him saying that the adjustment would’ve been more robust for today’s players has some validity to it. However, cross-era comparisons remain an unsolvable discussion.