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Ball Don't Lie

Matt Barnes calls the modern NBA ‘soft’ on Twitter, and is kind of right

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Noted NBA enforcer Matt Barnes (Getty Images)

While watching a classic Boston Celtics/Detroit Pistons game on NBA TV on Monday, Los Angeles Clippers swingman Matt Barnes could not help but point out the differences between the game in the mid-1980s, and the modern era. Barnes points out that the NBA could freely hand-check in that era, and that blocks and charges were rarely called. And he’s right!

He also pointed out that “the NBA is so soft now,” because of this. And he’s wrong. Way wrong. Via Pro Basketball Talk, here are Barnes’ tweets:

(I know most of the comment-writers will stop reading here, after Matt’s tweets, and skip right down to the comment section to give their take. I implore you to read the rest. It’s only 367 words.)

There is a good reason why the game has gotten “soft” recently. It’s because the game became damn terrible for a few years, there.

There’s also a good reason why NBA TV is showing games from 1985, along with games from last season’s Eastern Conference finals, on the tube as “classics” this month. There’s also a good reason why you won’t be seeing many games from 2001 on NBA TV over the summer. It’s because, for a while there in the post-Michael Jordan era, the combination of increased athleticism, coach-driven attention to defense, and lax hand checking laws mixed to create a terrible product that rightfully turned scores of fans off.

And, not to denigrate the typical 1980s defender, players weren’t looking to take charges back then. The game was less physical. There was hand checking, but there certainly was no consistent sliding over to take charges or give up your body in the way that you see now. I agree with Barnes that the old way is preferable on an aesthetic level, in that block/charge regard, but the reason players weren’t getting called for charges back then is because nobody was taking nearly as many charges as they attempt now. If you don’t believe me, turn on NBA TV this week.

The NBA hasn’t gotten soft. It’s gotten smarter. It’s just as physical a game, if not more, than it was in 1985, because everybody wants to play defense now, and the athletes are that much better. Because for every hard-ass Piston or Celtic team you had banging bodies, there were far more that were more than willing to let things slide. The preponderance of block/charge calls in the modern game is frustrating, but it’s also due to all the people that are blocking and charging. Those people, at least not in great numbers as is the case today, weren’t attempting this back in 1985.

Beauty and grace, as is the case with toughness and grit, are relative things. Yes, guards could hand-check back then, but one quick comparison of the strength and quickness of the typical defender in 1985 in relation to today’s potential hand-checkers does the “soft” argument in.

And just try telling those league leaders in charges taken, after comparing their numbers to the charge leaders from 1985, how “soft” the NBA is now. Wear a cup while you do it.

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