Recently, staff writer Paul Attner ran a short series on the problems facing the National Basketball Association. In particular, he dwelled on the twin troubles of decreased attendance and lower television ratings.
The NBA, as it has evolved over the past two decades, has altered the basic concepts of basketball and then found out that the public does not really like the new product. The NBA has assumed that the fan wants glittery stars who score bundles of points, token defense, high-scoring contests and continous, if mindless, action. As a result, the NBA is built around a 24-second clock that actually stifles creative offense, laughable man-to-man defenses that are forced to rely on mugging tactics, and run-and-shoot games in which the team that has the ball last wins or loses on the final shot.
It has become a crashing bore to the millions of men (and now women) who grew up playing or watching a game based on team offense, team defenses, sound fundamentals and innovative strategy.
The NBA seems to cater to the superficial "sports viewer" who really believes that Pete Maravich or Lloyd Free is a great basketball player. Serious Basketball fans...switch to NBC to watch Notre Dame or North Carolina play the game the way it was intended to be played.
It should be noted that pro football, the other sport of ascendence during the last 20 years, has gone in the opposite direction. Once a sport that glamorized the Doak Walkers and Frank Giffords, it now also focuses on Harvey Martin, rotating zone defenses, offensive line charges and line-of-scrimmage domination.
The analogy between the two sports can be overdrawn, of course. Basketball is built around easier scoring and more individual play. All basketball fans find the talents of Julius Erving, Elgin Baylor, or David Thompson exhilarating. But many of us yearn to see more Bill Russells, Dave DeBusscheres, Paul Silases-players who propelled talented teammates to championships with team basketball.
The league must begin to reconsider its basic concepts and assumptions, and remove the straitjacket that has been imposed on the game. The following proposals should be explored:
Replace the 24-second clock with a 35- or 40-second clock. Give the teams a chance to develop offenses and defenses that involve some strategy. A clock of 35 to 40 seconds would not allow an all-out stall, but it would put a premium on strategy and diverse styles of play.
Legalize the zone defense. Let the procoaches earn their salaries and devise innovative defensive strategies. The pressing zone traps that expose weak ball-handling or inexpert passing would be returned to the game. The offenses, given a longer shot clock, would be forced to pass more and open up cracks in the zones.
Stop favouring the so-called superstars. At present, the league has two sets of rules, one for most players and another for superstars. Elvin Hayes, Julius Erving and Rick Barry never charge or walk, they are always hacked by the defensive player.
Sell the game as a team sport, with emphasis on winning. For too long the league has tried to convince audiences that what counts is seeing Dr. J. or Pistol Pete.
Improve the schedule. The NBA has to find a way to lessen the 82-game grind that minimizes tthe significance of each contest and exhausts the players. Intensified divisional Rivalries would help. CAPTION: Picture, Bill Russell