Let’s get this straight. I love basketball. It’s my favourite sport of all. Rugby used to be my favourite sport but, over the years, my preference has changed. The detailed reason it has changed is better left for another occasion but suffice it to say that rugby, in comparison to basketball, is just plain dumb. It’s not as dumb as rugby league, Australian football or soccer, grant you, but to play basketball well you need to have an intelligence quotient somewhat above that of a turnip.
There are oodles of turnips, potatoes, carrots and cauliflowers (and a range of other vegetables) playing league, rugby, AFL and soccer who could never make it in basketball because of their inability to understand how the game works. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with having sports that don’t require use of the noggin but, for the moment, I just prefer the more challenging sports.
A wonderful, but stupid, game
Now that my passion for basketball has been clearly established I will point out that the game is fundamentally flawed. There are aspects of basketball that are infuriating. There are elements so stupid and nonsensical that I find it extraordinary that nothing has been done to correct the flaws before now. The thing is that the flaws would not be that difficult to eradicate if someone had the will or sense to do it. Basketball is fixable. It could be the finest and purest human cultural activity ever devised if someone just took the bull by the horns and pointed out that the game, in its present form, is only about half as wonderful as it could be. Here is my attempt to correct the terrible wrongs of basketball. I may well have it all wrong, of course. All nasty comments about how stupid I am would be gratefully received.
In almost every sport a bigger, stronger or faster player has some advantage over a shorter, weaker and slower athlete. That is the way of the world. So be it! In many sports, however, while genetically determined physical characteristics may help or hinder an athlete, they rarely preclude him or her from the activity. In most sports a smaller player, if skilful or smart enough, can compete perfectly adequately against a player with superior physical attributes. While the ideal tennis player in the pro male ranks seems to measure between six foot and six foot four inches, there are still plenty of wonderful players who are much smaller or even much bigger than this. The game of rugby, in this sense, gets it right. It seems to be technically designed to enable people of every shape and size to play the game. That is a good thing! There are short and fat props with no necks. There are basketballer-like second-rowers who can jump to enormous heights. There are back-rowers who come in all shapes and sizes and who are both fleet-of-foot and not-so-fast. There are tiny scrum-halves who are sometimes not much bigger than jockeys or coxes from a rowing eight. There are back-line three-quarter positions with athletes ranging from small to gigantic in dimension. That is the way a sport should be.
Too many big boofheads
Not basketball. The single greatest flaw in the design of the game of basketball is that the finest athletes on the planet are quite unable to play the game because it’s design only permits individuals who carry genes that enable them to grow to heights well over six feet to be successful. Leo Messi may well have wanted to play hoops for Real Madrid or Golden State but even high school coaches would have laughed at him if he had tried out for the basketball team. Ronaldo and Zidane, big buggers by soccer standards at 6’1”, wouldn’t have even made the high school sophomore team even if they had been mercurial players. Ibrahimovic, who towers over his fellow soccer players at nearly 6’5”, might have had some kind of chance to make a team as a point guard but his lack of zippiness and athleticism for a “little guy” would probably have ensured that he was sent by the coach back to the soccer pitch.
Champion Australian point guard, Matthew Dellavedova, has been pronounced to be too small at 6’4”. What? The point guard is the basketball equivalent of a rugby scrum-half. He or she is the jockey of the team. The pee-wee. The tiny one. What kind of game is stupid enough to insist that a team’s tiniest player should tower over ordinary mortals. Then, from the tiny 6’4” point guards we have shooting guards at 6’6, laughably named small forwards at 6’8”, power forwards at anything up to 6’11” and centres anywhere between 6’11” to eight feet. Basketball experts all over the world can laugh all they want but I will never be convinced that there are not hundreds of thousands of basketball players in the world who are well under the mandatory 6’4” and immensely superior athletes to many players in the NBA. Unfortunately for gifted shorter basketball players, the rules and design of the game, in combination with a pretty hefty dose of boofhead culture, keep ninety-nine percent of them out of serious competition.
I reckon that this could easily be fixed. The reason why enormous human beings are so favoured in basketball is not purely for rebounding purposes. For goodness sakes, many of the greatest rebounders of all time have been far from the tallest players. The burley Charles Barkley was barely taller than a point guard at around 6’5” but he was a great rebounder. Dennis Dodman was tall at 6’7” but there were plenty of blokes much bigger than him who never got near the ball if he was anywhere nearby. Tall players dominate the game because they are so much closer to the offensive and defensive objective… the basket… rather than because taller players scrap better for the ball. My tip is to simply place the ring out of reach of all but the most athletic players and we will see the advantage of the giants seriously diminished. Mike Jordan would still be able to dunk if the ring was set at 11’6” from the ground but most wouldn’t. A higher ring would very quickly get rid of the dross. I am not anti-dunk but the game is currently dominated by athletes who play the game at or above the ring. I would love to see a game that is faster, more dynamic, has more diversity in style of play, better ball movement, better passing and where the lay-up is a challenging shot! I would love to see a game where a dunk is a rare and exciting event!
There is a front and a back but no middle!
Another ridiculous aspect of the game is that there is virtually no mid-court play. A couple of dribbles or a pass or two and the team has taken the ball from defence into attacking the basket at the opposite end in a flash. What about mid-field action? Transition should be a challenge and teams should have to work hard to progress the basketball up the court. The mid-court turn-over is relatively rare in basketball. It should be common. A team’s mid-court performance should be a key element of their play.
Again, the solution is simple. As well as the existing 14 m front court and 14 m back court-there should be a centre court of 14 m added to the length of the playing area. With the court a third longer teams would be forced to improve their passing and team skills and more players would have to be involved in the process of advancing the ball. The game would also be improved in the defensive sense as teams would be encouraged to practise and execute their trapping and pressing skills. Full-court defence would become the normal thing rather than a rarity. The larger court would also have the effect of negating the “big guy” advantage in favour of having players who are nimble, fast and agile and have excellent ball handling skills.
Saving the mid-range jumper
While we are adding a bit of length to the court we might as well add a few meters to the width as well. If the court were a third larger in width we would not only see better passing and ball movement we would see considerably more exciting shooting as well with players attempting three point shots from meters further from the basket than would normally be seen and, even better, space would be opened-up for good shooters to execute the currently almost extinct mid-range jump shot. Oh, what joy! Big players would still enjoy plenty of low post activity if they were good enough but much more offensive and defensive diversity would result from the expanding of the court.
Let’s play ball – full-contact!
Surely everyone hates the charging/blocking rules. Let’s get rid of them and take the referees out of that aspect of the game. Let’s make charging a legitimate offensive play and blocking a legitimate defensive play. Using hands, arms or legs to obstruct a player would remain a personal foul but using the body would be just fine! That would get rid of any shrinking violets and sissies who don’t like a little knock. It might also put show-ponies who hate to pass the ball when laying it up at some disadvantage. Basketball has always been a full contact sport but it has, in the past, been left to referees to adjudicate who was responsible for the contact.
How stupid is that. Let’s just make contact legal! Charles Barkley, as a commentator, often complains about the fact that players don’t hit Steph Curry enough. Imagine an NBA where it was legal to belt Steph. How good would that be?
Finally, what is it with the shot clock? It’s just annoying. The game is plenty fast enough without a shot clock. Basketball is well and truly over-officiated and getting rid of the shot clock would get rid of a substantial amount of the officiating bureaucracy. Anyone who thinks that the shot clock speeds up what is already an exciting and fast game is a total knob.