Centers' Little Helper

Dennis Hans, unrenowned former adjunct professor of mass comm and American foreign policy, relentlessly exposed the Bush administration’s “techniques of deceit” BEFORE the Iraq war, when it could have made a difference (see links). For decades he has fought baseball’s discrimination against lefthanded infielders and promoted his ingenious clockwise solution. A lifelong advocate for a flowing, non-brutal, flop-free NBA, he now champions the cause of its second-class citizens: the centers.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Still another injured center; the superior 1972 game
Ben Wallace had to be carried off the other night with a "collateral damage" knee injury. It now looks like he should be okay within a few days or a week, but it first had the look of a serious, possibly season-ending injury. Here's how it happened:

Udonis Haslem, in the restricted zone, spotted Kirk Hinrich driving on Jason Kapono, so Udonis first moved forward (to get out of the restricted zone) and to his left (to get in Hinrich's presumed path). Hinrich saw what Udonis was up to and tried to split the two defenders while jumping off both feet. That is, Kirk felt like he had a step on Kapono and by planting and jumping left, toward the basket, he'd slice by the outside of U's right shoulder. But while Kirk was planting for takeoff, Haslem was stepping forward with his right leg. So instead of U having his feet parallel to the baseline, his right foot was maybe 2 feet in front of his left (if you're looking from the sideline). Basically, U walked under or into Kirk, taking away the jumping lane Kirk envisioned. Thus, when he jumped to his left he collided with Haslem's right leg.

In a sane league, U would know in advance he'd have no chance of drawing a charge unless he were planted and waiting on Kirk BEFORE Kirk planted his lift-off foot or feet. But in today's NBA, U knows that he can run up to, into or under a driver, and so long as U is reasonably still when the two collide, he's got a good chance of drawing a charge. And on this play, that's just what he drew. As for the aftermath involving innocent bystander Ben Wallace, perhaps U lost his balance when Kirk made contact with his right leg, or maybe U made no effort to maintain his balance. (Riley-coached players can typically maintain their balance when hit forcefully while setting an offensive screen. When they're help-defending it's another story, as fairly mild contact usually is enough to knock them over.) In any event, U fell backwards into Wallace, who was focused on the shot and not expecting to be hit by falling timber in the paint. U's head struck Ben's knee. Ben first tried to shake it off but quickly found he couldn't put any weight on his leg and collapsed on the court.

This injury wasn't caused by Udonis, or Kirk, or fate. It was caused by the incompetent NBA leadership, David Stern and Stu Jackson, who've tweaked the rules to cater to the likes of Pat Riley and Scott Skiles. Although this play hurt the Bulls, it could just as easily have been Nocioni, Big Ben or Malik Allen in the Udonis role, crashing into the knee of Wade, Shaq or Zo. See my ”Open Letter to Ronnie Nunn” (he’s the NBA’s director of officials), for details on a number of injuries and scary falls that should never have occurred.

Folks, it's a numbers game. The more falling bodies in the crowded paint, the more injuries. Some mild, some serious, some devastating. It doesn't have to be this way.

The other day I watched Game 5 of the 1972 NBA Finals on NBA-TV. Didn't see any falling bodies or block/charge collisions in the paint. Only two plays resembled the Mickey-Mouse defense that's all the rage today (taught by Riley, Popovich, Dick Harter, Carlisle and their many proteges and imitators): Gail Goodrich, apparently peeved over a call seconds earlier, collapsed from light, incidental, off-the-ball contact at midcourt, which the refs wisely ignored, and later Goodrich established good position at the foul line and tried to draw a charge from Walt Frazier on a fast break. But Walt was able to slow down and make a pass perhaps a split second before bumping Goodrich, and the result was another wise no-call. Refs in those days were more inclined to follow the ball than worry about contact AFTER a pass — particularly when the offensive player is pulling up rather than steamrolling the defender. Unlike Goodrich's earlier obvious flop, there seemed to be enough contact from Walt's slowing forward motion that the fall was legit, but the league at that time preferred that the defender in that situation react to the pass and follow the ball, not keep his feet glued to some meaningless piece of wood as the play unfolded elsewhere.

This would soon change, and the league took a dramatic turn for the worse in the mid-1970s, as refs began to cater to charge-obsessed coaches Dick Motta, Al Attles, Jack Ramsay, Larry Brown, Hubie Brown and others. Fortunately, the league's first block/charge and flopping era lasted only a few seasons. Things were better in the 1980s, with the great Laker and Celtic teams generally setting a good example. Going against the positive trend were the early-1980s Chuck Daly-Dick Harter Pistons and perhaps some other teams. But even that Pistons team (this was before the Bad Boys) weren't nearly as revolting on defense as a dozen teams today, including the Heat, Bulls, Cavs, Rockets, Bucks, Nets, Knicks, Hawks, Grizzlies, Clippers, Mavs and yes, the Suns.

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