The Toronto Raptors recently invited one-time power forward Charles Oakley — more famous for his stints with the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks — to a game, to honor him.
Oak used the occasion as an opportunity to speak his mind about the state of the NBA. And he doesn’t love it.
"Who do I like watching? It's hard to watch," he said. "I don't know, it's just, it's a different game. It's some good games and a lot of bad games. More bad games than good games these days. Everybody says the game has changed, instead of talking about the guys I got a chance to see them first hand. It was kind of bad. The mind is not — you don't have to be strong to play this game no more. I don't know what it is.
“They just roll you out there like a basketball. That's why ... you see the same teams in the finals or winning 55 games. Strong teams, strong-minded coach. Just the players, they don't think it, they don't know how to play together. So that's one of things I see the weakness is: Communication, the guys don't love the game. They play the game, but they don't play with their heart.”
There’s some merit to what Oakley says, even if he comes from the same self-serving place that Charles Barkley and Shaq do when they hurl criticisms at contemporary big men. Like the NBA on TNT crew, Oakley is only human, and watching his narrative of fame fade over time has to be a melancholy experience. Sometimes, that means making a straw man out of today’s players, to take your frustrations out on them.
On the other hand, Oakley’s words get at the biggest problem of the NBA’s regular season: it’s too long. Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs changed the model of game-to-game approach by implementing aggressive rest throughout year, a habit now practiced by most contenders. And at the core of this is a heightened awareness of how meaningless much of the 82-game grind is.
NBA teams are smart to recognize this. Does it mean a less watchable product, at times? Definitely. But a lack of heart? Maybe not so much.
— John Wilmes