The question, What is pro basketball going to look like in the year 2000?, is intriguing because a man calling himself a "futurologist" was on the boob tube not long ago and said today's middle-aged folks will have trouble coping with 2000. He sees computers in the kitchen, videophones in the study and a corporeal aero-transferral unit in every garage. That's a car that flies.
To be honest about this, the typist went to Capital Centre the other night in hopes of extracting from the Bullets-Nets game a thousand words of wisdom on what a wonderful team the Bullets have become. Asleep in their sneakers, the Bullets lost that night.
Not that it meant anything. In the last minutes of the game, the Bullets on the bench were giggling like schoolgirls in the presence of Shaun Cassidy. A half-hour later, one of the Nets, Jan van Breda Kolff, was in the Bullet locker room, making plans to join Elvin Hayes for dinner. Such is the fierce competition of the NBA in December.
The Bullets are, in fact, a fine team at the moment. Each man fills a job in a way that complements every other man. If Julius Erving flies, Bobby Dandridge is just as efficient but not in a way you'd notice. Wes Unseld is a poem of a player, each syllable movement essential. Only Hayes of these Bullets ever suffered an enlarged ego and, happily, he seems over it. This is a tema that can win the NBA championship again.
While his playmates were locked in enervating mock combat with the Nets the other night, Mitch Kupchak, the Bullets' perpetualmotion man, posed an intriguing question of his own for the rookie next to him on the bench, Roger Phegley.
"What if Naismith was sitting at courtside?" Kupchak said. "What would be think?"
Then, Kupchak said, he did his impression of a puzzled old-man Naismith, muttering, "What the hell's going on here? Guys slamdunking, Julius Erving flying. This ain't the game I invented. I put that basket 10 feet high, so's nobody would ever touch that sucker."
Well, if Dr. James Naismith's creation of 1891 has changed today, what's it going to be like in 2000 when we climb in the family corporeal aero-transferral unit (monthly payments of $2,333 for 108 months) and whoosh down our private air lane to the antique Capital Centre?
Wes Unseld, for one, isn't even sure there'll be a Cap Centre.
"Won't be any arenas," said Unseld when asked if basketball in 2000 would draw crowds of 75,000. "Or, at least there'll be only small arenas. Everything will be on cable-TV. You pay for it at home and we play in front of nobody."
Unseld wouldn't contemplate how the rules of the game might change. That's partly because he is a wise man who has better ways to spend his thinking time, and partly because he's steamed about the current rules changes that limit contact.
"Rules for sissies," snorted the man mountain.
"The rules will be what the fans dictate," said Dandridge, "and right now they're dictating more offense. The diehard, knowledgeable basketball fan likes the NBA way of play -- fundamentals, physical, hard work. The ABA came in with the young players who had flair -- Dr. J -- and the fans liked that. How many diehard, knowledgeable basketball fans are there, anyway?
"So there'll be a move to more offense."
Scores of 200-190?
"Yeah," Dandridge said longingly, as if trying to figure out how old he'll be in 2000 and whether he could still fill it up then.
Kevin Grevey, the Bullets' semi-sane guard, said, "They might enlarge the baskets for more scoring." He was salivating at the thought. "I'm certain they'll bring in the three-point shot. And it'll be a rougher game. Brutal."
Grevey was getting into this now.
"There'll be fights, with no one stepping in to stop them, like in hockey, just let 'em slug it out."
A sudden thought...
"If there aren't any wars in the next 20 years," Grevey said, "basketball will be like Rollerball. You see that movie?"
"Rollerball" was a movie in which men, lacking true war, were killed in the name of sport. They rode motorcycles around a Roller Derby-like track and killed each other with whips and karate blows. Computers kept a body count.
"Come back again for another exciting night of NBA basketball," Grevey said as a columnist walked away, imagining a semisane guard on a motorcycle throwing in 30-footers while dodging whips.
As luck would have it, two old friends, Ford Reid and Bill Pike, have basketabll's future all mapped out.
"Our idea," Reid said, "is to recess the key, with sloping sides," and all the guys 6-8 or over would have to play in there. The closer you get to-the basket, the deeper it gets.
"Then, when a team is ahead by 10 points, the basket starts to move back and forth across the backboard. If a team gets ahead by 20, the basket moves back and forth and up and down. This would be electronically controlled random movement, so you couldn't figure out what it was going to do next.
"We also thought there should be those sliding floors, like they have in fun houses. That would slow people down and put some unpredictability into it. There would have to be another official. We call him The Great Arbitrator.There would be an electronic device in the ball and he would control it with a wand.
"Imagine guys on a fast break.A long pass is thrown, but when the ball hits the floor, it just goes dead. Stops. Then, as everybody scrambles for the ball, the G.A. could make it go straight up in the air and the floor would start moving back and forth.
"That would put an end to dull basketball Even if a team was ahead, 90-31, people would stick around to see what The Great Arbitrator would take a notion to do."
And what would Dr. Naismith think of that ?