Unlike any other professional sport, the NBA is happy to put “get off my lawn” older players who appear to detest the modern game on some of its biggest stages.
Enter TNT’s Charles Barkley. He was on the Bill Simmons podcast and the NBA’s offseason online debate of the greatest point guard ever — Stephen Curry or Magic Johnson — came up, which is when Barkley went on a rant about how the Bad Boy Pistons would “break” Curry.
“Can you imagine if the Bad Boys were beating the hell out of him. Bill, can you imagine that? As much as I love Steph Curry, if you think that he could take those blows that John Salley, Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer, those body checks that they were putting on Michael [Jordan] and Scottie [Pippen] and myself and guys like that, you really think Steph Curry wouldn’t break?”
No. He would not.
The argument that today’s players could not adjust to the physicality allowed in previous eras is lazy, and flawed on two fronts.
First, Curry specifically — and a lot of other players today — are a lot tougher than Barkley wants to admit. Look at it this way, Curry is officially listed as 6’2″ and he plays now at around 195-200 pounds. Who were some of the top point guards of that era? John Stockton (6’1″, 170), Barkley’s teammate Kevin Johnson (6’1″ 180), Mark Price 6-foot, 170), Barkley’s TNT partner Kenny Smith (6’3″, 170), John Starks (6’3″, 180), and then there is 6’7, 185 Reggie Miller. Those guys and many more than size had no problem against Bad Boy Pistons.
Second, Barkley doesn’t talk about the flip side of the game’s evolution — Bill Laimbeer would have been played off the court by the shooting and spacing of the Warriors, he would have been exposed in high pick-and-rolls. I love Rick Mahorn, he would have struggled, and James Edwards and some of the other bigs were products of their era. For the record, Dennis Rodman could have played and defended in any era.
That doesn’t even get into how athletes of this generation — in every sport — are bigger/stronger/faster than previous generations, thanks to improvements in training, medical science, diet and more.
Was the game more physical in the late 1980s/early 1990s? Unquestionably. The Bad Boy Pistons have two rings and a well-deserved place in NBA lore. They are legends for a reason.
So are Curry and the Warriors — the epitome of the game in their generation. It’s just tiring to listen to older voices trying to prop up themselves and their era — when they don’t need to — by taking shots at the current one.
Curry would be a superstar in any era. So would Barkley. The need to prop up the old eras of the game as superior because that’s what people grew up with is just intellectually lazy. I wish some NBA analysts could move past it.