When the guy who played in the NBA through three decades talks, you pay attention. When he played in one of the greatest eras in NBA history, with and against Michael Jordan, you take notes. That’s Charles Oakley for you; the epitome of grit and grind NBA player, and he’s said it – the NBA has changed for the worse.
It’s the final straw that forced Oak to retire. For the player who played through the brawl that was 90s basketball, the NBA was heading in the wrong direction. The negligence of fundamentals was a hard pill to swallow for Oakley, as he felt the play was becoming too one-dimensional. The emphasis was on working on selective skills, with other parts of players’ game stagnating.
Bear in mind, Oak retired in ’04 when the league was still in a transition phase before becoming what it is today. But even in such stage, it has become a landscape Oakley didn’t want to be a part of.
I probably could’ve kept playing, but the league was just changing so much that it wasn’t for me no more. You seeing guys that just don’t care for the game as much and that hurt me to see that late in my career, that management don’t enforce guys to work on their game. They were like ‘we don’t have to work on our post up no more ’cause we don’t run post plays‘ and I said ‘you might have a mismatch, you never know.‘Charles Oakley
Players not caring enough rubbed Oakley the wrong way. He held teams’ managements accountable for it, as they were the ones who didn’t coerce guys to work on their crafts. The product of such an approach was the development of a losing culture in the NBA, that manifested through teams tanking for draft picks. Oakley had seen it as cheating the game, as it seemed that basketball success has become a side issue in the league.
The NBA is a competitive environment, and winning has to be the end goal for every participant. It’s a natural dynamic where there is an ultimate validation involved, and that validation has forever been the Larry O’Brien Trophy. According to Oak, teams got off the rails, and are prioritizing different things rather than winning the cross-conference post-season matchup.
It’s the shift of priorities, as the business side of the NBA is outweighing the basketball side. Let’s not be foolish, the NBA will forever be a money-making machine, and when guys are investing money from their own pockets, financial indicators will be of utmost importance. But it’s happening at the expense of the purity of the game of basketball, and Oakley isn’t fond of such disbalance.
They started just selling for stuff and that’s why you see teams that don’t get better and keep getting lottery every year but they can’t put it together.Charles Oakley
The NBA getting back to its roots of the love for the game of basketball is a reach. Let’s face it; things will never get back to how they used to be. The league will remain business-oriented machinery, and the overall climate around it won’t toughen up.
In terms of the shift to a go-to playstyle in the NBA, it’s inevitable. The NBA has always been a constantly-changing mechanism, so status-quo is off the table. I see the play once again gravitating towards fundamentals, but don’t quote me on that. Who knows what will end up happening. Isn’t that the beauty of it?