Oscar Robertson doesn't think NBA coaches 'understand the game'

Oscar Robertson wants to talk about defense. (Getty Images)
Oscar Robertson wants to talk about defense. (Getty Images)

The NBA’s recent history has been sadly littered with angry retirees barking about everything was tougher and better during their day.

Things certainly were “tougher,” for myriad reasons, but the quality of NBA play is as good as it has ever been, and the range of carpers has extended to include even those (like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Gary Payton) that were once criticized by their predecessors for acting as all flash, attitude, and entitlement.

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Unsurprisingly, sadly go ahead and add Oscar Robertson to the mix. He saw an NBA game in person on Wednesday evening, and promptly went off on the league and its Golden State Warriors on (sigh, sorry) Mike and Mike in the Morning on Thursday.

As transcribed by Randy Miller at

"If I've got a guy who's great shooting the ball outside, don't you want to extend your defense out a little bit?" the 77-year-old Big O said Thursday during a phone interview on ESPN's Mike & Mike show. "I just don't think coaches today in basketball understand the game of basketball. They don't know anything about defenses. They don't know what people are doing on the court. They talk about analytical basketball and stuff like that."


"He's shot well because of what's going on in basketball today," Robertson said. "In basketball today, it's almost like if you can dunk or make a three-point shot, you're the greatest thing since sliced bread.

"There have been some great shooters in the past. ... But here again, when I played years ago, if you shot a shot outside and hit it, the next time I'm going to be up on top of you. I'm going to pressure you with three-quarters, half-court defense. But now they don't do that. These coaches do not understand the game of basketball, as far as I'm concerned."

And now, the shocker!

Robertson thinks the game was played better in his era.

"I think Golden State and some other teams play very well, but look at the game of basketball," he said. "They run one play. Well, maybe two plays. They've got a high-pick with the center, then the shooters run baseline trying to get open with blocks from the forwards. I mean that's it. You don't see hardly any reverse plays at all, no double screens, no weak side and whatnot.”

No, you do. You see a lot of it. You see it more than ever. This rant may have worked in 1999, when Larry Brown-types had a stranglehold on the league, but this batch of scouting is just ridiculously misguided. And it’s not as if Oscar Robertson doesn’t have the ability to watch Golden State’s offense on national TV dozens of times per year. He doesn’t need to come on over and watch Portland on my League Pass.

Picking apart the hilarity behind merely asking teams to “extend your defense out a little bit” as it stares down a player with perhaps the most potent combination of shooting skill, ball-handling acumen and passing foresight isn’t worth anyone’s time. And we don’t want to get into the business of spending too much time tearing apart the thoughts of Oscar Robertson, an honorable and brilliant man who also ranks as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

What does deserve discussing and defending is the state of NBA coaching, in 2016.

There are several head coaches out there to chortle at, but on the whole NBA coaches have never worked harder, and they’ve never been more intelligent when it comes to finding new ways to either create, or slay the dragon. And that’s with Tom Thibodeau currently out of the league – likely doing chin-ups in a darkened basement at the moment.

The ability to take in new information – and we’re not even discussing analytical, on-paper concepts at this point – has never been easier. The opportunity to have opponent sets 1-through-147 memorized by the ball tips off has never been greater. And coaches and NBA staffs have taken advantage, even if Stephen Curry makes them all look silly every other night.

Deep into the 1990s – Michael Jordan’s heyday, with national television ratings that outpaced the World Series in some years – the NBA had its fair share of games that were not televised locally. A younger fan might not believe it, but for years SportsCenter anchors had to narrate the occasional “scoreboard-only” contests that only featured highlights culled from the feed of the arena scoreboard.

(Younger fans might also not believe that SportsCenter used to show highlights, but we digress.)

NBA coaching staffs, which now get to run four or five deep (twice as many bench inhabitants as Oscar’s day, due to need and the league’s increasing profits) have an ungodly amount of clips and full games at their disposal, taken from several official and sanctioned websites, as their chartered jet flies to the next city and next opponent. Scouts, coordinators and analytic-types (in the modern era, these employees tend to have interchangeable job titles featuring the best attributes of each of those areas), meanwhile, are either on the road or at the team’s home base planning out the next week’s opponents.

To see someone with such obvious basketball intelligence tee off on what is clearly an unsupported opinion (seriously, watch these games. Just look at what Golden State did to counter Miami’s various defensive attacks on Wednesday night in the team’s 51st win), is disappointing. If Oscar Robertson doesn’t care to waste his evenings watching the odd NBA game, fine. Don’t go on some pablum-happy, NFL-obsessed milquetoast radio chat show that revels in unfounded and un-researched opinion shilling and expect to be given a pass.

And don’t go off on a series of hard-working NBA head coaches – and the incredibly hard-working assistants and scouting staff that plow the road ahead of the leader – just because you think teams aren’t paying attention to Stephen Curry at the three-point line.

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Kelly Dwyer

is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!