Posted on: March 6, 2013 11:12 pm

Best Story: Blackhawks or Heat?

This was gonna’ be a piece all about the amazing Chicago Blackhawks’ and their stupendous start to abbreviated NHL ‘12-13, but then hoopsters Miami decided to turn-up the Heat on the rest of the NBA and remind everyone who’s boss. Tough call.

Every time I get the scores on these two clubs I’m muttering to myself words like “Really,” “Wow” or “Is that right?” It’s real and it’s right.

As of this writing (3/6) the Blackhawks’ record stands at a mind-boggling 21-0-3, while the Heat have fattened-up their mark to a weighty 45-14 with zero defeats in their last sixteen contests.

So who’s the better storyline, Chicago’s ice-men cometh or the Miami marvels?

Going by the media’s reaction it’s the Heat Express, hands down.

During the streak Miami is winning by an average of 12 points per contest, faring fine in team-rankings for both scoring (5) and defense (10).

While their two biggest threats at this stage in San Antonio and Indiana are absent from the run (L 2/1 @ IND 89-102), the sixteen Ws do include nice wins over serious squads from each Conference including OKC, LAC, LAL, MEM, NYK, CHI and ATL.

Those susceptible to being ‘captured by the moment’ now feel compelled to put LeBron James in the ‘greatest all-time‘ discussion (Kobe shrugs). Such succotash probably puts a wry smile on the face of the savvy Mr. James who’d quickly dismiss the fawning.

Greatest or not, the “merely super-great” James (a Bing-ism) reigns supreme in ‘13 and is big reason why the Heat cook like Rachel Ray on short notice, joining leaders in PPG (27 / 4), assists (10), FG% (8) and rebounds (22), while Dwyane Wade contributes (21.7) and Chris Bosh rebounds lite (7.0). Heat hiccups: an Ass’n worst RPG (38.8) as Eastern rival IND excels (45.7) and disturbing up-tick in LeBron’s 3-pt. tries in opposite of prior trend downward.

Any aspirations Miami has of dynasty can only be realized if James works his business inside (where he’s nearly unstoppable) and passes on the tres-temptation like it was that frosted cupcake calling you for a late-night snack. Gotta’ watch the GERD!

Those residing north of the 49th parallel or folk who favor the checks & balances in the spectacle of skate will vote Blackhawks the better narrative. I concur.

Any team that stays unbeaten for as long as the ‘Hawks deserves the nod. One thing though, the word ‘unbeaten’ is a bit tricky in the NHL, given the three dimensions of play: regulation, overtime and shootout periods. The Chicagoans remain unbeaten in regulation and OT (4), having gone 3-3 in shooters.

As for the point record (24G season-start), I’ve never been a fan of streaks or streakers (bad look in the 70s). That’s especially true when a streak is subject to the whims of official scorers (Joe 56), player discretion (Cal 2632) or stapled onto a prior season (CHI 30 / 35 ‘79-80 Flyers). Pointless.

These Blackhawks impress because of their scoring differential (72 GF vs 41 GA), wealth of goal-tending (Corey Crawford & Ray Emery / 1.73 GAA), resilient, bounce-back ability (COL 3/6) and parlay probably the most talented, diverse trio on ice in Jonathan Toews (C), Patrick Kane and the wily veteran who serves as team bellwether, Marian Hossa.

Chicago’s penalty minutes are where they should be (270 / 18th) but power-play is pedestrian (19.7%). No matter, it’s an over-rated stat. This is where you work in those wise & famous words of Mr. Disraeli: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” Damn the scoring part, it’s killing the PP that matters and in that regard ‘Hawks are fine.

Some compare this Blackhawks’ squad to the 2010 Stanley Cup winners. Fair enough. Many players and coaches (Joel Quenneville) remain. But each team has its own dynamic and must forge its own identity requiring a new assessment. One asset from ’09-10 that will need duplication come playoffs is defenseman-enforcer Dustin Byfuglien, now with Winnipeg. That ‘10 Finals (PHI) was hero heavy but “Big Buff” played a key role.

A lot can change between March and May, but for now, the ‘Hawks and Heat are playing like teams with a destiny and the know-how to grab hold a’ that brass ring and hang-on tight.

Oh yeah, there’s one more thing that makes the Blackhawks’ Cup Quest II the better tale: they display the best uniforms and moniker on the sporting landscape, hands down. So please Reebok Suits & Skirts, hands off.

Steven Keys
Neutral Zone
Posted on: January 7, 2013 11:59 am

NBA Feeling Lakers' Pain

“When America sneezes, the world catches cold.” That’s a variant of what Klemens von Metternich wrote about France during the Napoleonic period in the early 1800s.

In the same vane, when the Los Angeles Lakers are under-the-weather, all of basketball feels a tad queasy.

With his title in tow, LeBron James may be the contented face of the NBA and other clubs can surely pack a punch, but if there’s an America’s Team on the pro hardwood circuit it has to be the men in purple & gold of southern California.

Don’t like the Lakers as NBA standard-bearer? Tough noogies. Find another team that‘s done their fans as proud as have the Lakers over past sixty years and you can complain.

Celtics had a good run there but have fashioned just one title (‘08) since ‘86; the Knicks’ drought is so long it raises concerns over climate change; Bulls will milk the Jordan / Jackson legacy dry, content waiting on good fortune to land in their lap again; and only time will tell whether the Spurs, Heat, Mavericks and the myriad of contender / pretenders that pop up every decade will make the long-term investment standard-bearing requires.

Whether it was the Yankees, Maple Leafs, Packers or Gophers football and their 6 national crowns that provided the template, I don’t know. What I do know is that when the NBA set-up shop in the Land of 10,000 Lakes in 1947, the new ownership created a strategy for success that’s remained in place as long as any other franchise in all of sportdom.

From those early days when original superstar George Mikan carried the frozen Lakers on his back (‘49-50, ‘52-54), to the Baylor / West era, Wilt’s arrival and first golden title in ’72, Kareem‘s return, then the magical ride of Earvin Johnson & friends to the Jacksonian Era (Kobe), LA’s foray into the NBA has been great for its fans and good for the game.

As of this writing LAL’s record stands at 15-18. Not in full funk yet but starting to give a faint feeling of futility.

The numbers tell a tale.

Kobe Bryant’s putting up points like Michael Jordan was pre-Phil (30.5), bidding time while he and everyone around him tries to find their bearings.

Pau Gasol’s numbers are down (8.5 REB / 12) as he adjusts to the new arrivals and bears-up under the constant talk of trade.

Prize pre-season pick-up Dwight “Pip” Howard of the “Great Expectations” has seen his offensive boards ebbing low (3.7) but overall puts up respectable digits (12 REB / 17+).

The other half of Lakers surprise off-season haul, Steve Nash, is rounding into form (8.2 APG / 10.2) since returning from a leg injury that had him sidelined from tip-off. The challenge: Is there a power-sharing or does Nash take charge and direct the flow?

Team tallies: Lakers are fifth in scoring (102.8) but just four spots up on NBA worst Charlotte (103.8) in points allowed (100.5), in the top-half of FG% (45.3), near the rear in FT% (69) but just behind leader Golden State (46+) in all important RPG category (45.8).

Recent coaching changes have taken their toll on continuity, chemistry and confidence.

Mike Brown’s firing felt like panic, Kupchak & Buss’ flirtation with Phil Jackson smacked of a bad, discount chain, shoe-store interview in Green Bay and current mastermind Mike D’Antoni’s record is spotty: solid in Phoenix, so-so in NYC.

It’s too easy and a bit lame to blame their current malaise on “old” age (Bryant). A likely motivational move by their team-leader but not carefully crafted when it comes outta’ the mouth of one of the NBA’s aging war-horses (34).

Kobe may’ve signed-off on the D’Antoni hire to show Steve he’s team-minded and fully-vested in his addition to the Lakers’ roster. If yes, a classy move by KB but complicated when Jackson was also in the mix. Phil’s too savvy to demand the sun, moon and stars from Buss, though, certainly had every right to do so given his credentials and the State of Lakerland at the time, a state it’s not all together clear has improved much.

But the Lakers have ‘crossed the Rubicon’ with Mike D., for the rest of this season. There’s still plenty of time to turn this thing around and make the playoffs, where anything can happen and often does in today's wild & wacky sports world.

I see an intelligent, experienced Lakers’ team, deep in talent and guided by a skillful coach, all of whom, through some calculated trial & error, need time to make the proper adjustments. More specifically, better defense, fewer 3-pointers, more inside game, protect the ball (15.5 TOG) and concentration when at the charity stripe.

A season can take on a feel, a mood where either it keeps clicking or instead stays out of sync. This Lakers’ squad may need more than one season to gel, more time to flavor that broth that too many cooks can spoil if not of the same recipe. The new-fangled Miami Heat of a few years back had a better record to this point than Kobe’s crew but also needed their own time to find a cohesiveness and style for success.

Words to the wise: I’d get my licks in now when opposing these Lakers because when they do hit their stride, watch out NBA.

Steven Keys
The Solid State
Posted on: June 18, 2012 4:14 pm

Knicks Nix Jackson Deal?

I’m not buying it, not for a second.

I‘m not buying into any characterization of Phil Jackson’s recent HBO interview that claims he had no interest in the formerly vacant New York Knickerbockers head coaching position. The “Real Sports” conversation is scheduled to be aired on 6-19.

By highlighting his use of the word “clumsy” when describing the Knicks in his talk with Andrea Kremer (NYT - Beck - 6/15; CBS - Moore - 6/16; AP-Fox - “Phil” - 6/16), Jackson is broadly painted as being aloof to the MSG post.

I think that’s hog-wash, straight from the media spin-cycle.

Besides the obvious reasons, like his availability and NYC past, there are ‘tells’ (and red-herrings) in these floated excerpts of the interview that tell me Phil was, if not enamored, at least somewhat vested in the idea of filling the Knicks‘ coaching job last May.

First he tells Andrea, “I wasn’t gonna’ take the (Knicks) job, that’s for sure.” That’s a red-herring. If,…IF you were interested in a position, took a gander and it didn’t develop, isn’t that like something you’d say? Maybe.

To further dampen curiosity, the coach states Knicks’ ownership “never called.” But that could mean one of two things: either their people had no conversation at all about the job, or, both sides put out pre-interview feelers, reached an impasse and hence, no phone call.

Then Phil wades into the Knicks roster, making it sound like his typical scenario, a talented team in need of a maestro to bring it all together to make beautiful music (Bulls (‘89) & Lakers (‘99)) and the perfect setting for start of the newest Jacksonian Era.

Rightly perplexed, Andrea prompts the Zen-master: “But wouldn’t you have been the perfect person to come in and blend all that talent together? You sort of have a good history of that.”

Phil: “Yeah. Well, it didn’t happened.” That’s a tell.

He could have said, ‘You’re right, Andrea, in the past that’s exactly the spot I would've reveled in and took-on as a challenge. But now I’m older and don’t have that kind of energy, that kind of patience.’ He didn’t say that.

Instead: “Yeah. Well, it didn’t happen.”

Reads to me like a guy who was curious-interested about the job and feels a bit put-off.

You have to read between the lines here but it’s not like some coded-text CIA-man Rob Redford and his ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ co-workers (RIP) had to decipher in Three Days of the Condor (‘75).

Intentional or not, Phil Jackson may’ve given us all a clue. I think, within certain parameters, he wanted the Knicks job. But ownership, for whatever reason, wouldn’t or couldn’t make it happen. Heck, PJ himself made the case for his hiring in the interview.

Why the deal never matured, only the possible principals would know that story. But it’s hard to imagine, someone with Jackson’s reputation, experience, in these circumstances, not being contacted at all or making the fatal negotiation error of asking for something he couldn’t reasonably expect from Knicks’ ownership. Hard to imagine, indeed.

Though, if I’m Knicks’ owner James Dolan / MSG, I don’t offer Phil the sun and the moon, let alone the stars too. Phil’s getting up there in years and he wasn’t being disingenuous about the problems with team chemistry at the Garden. No matter who's at the helm, turning this Knicks' roster into a Finals regular is a long-shot.

And if you’re a Knicks’ fan whose pride was left a little bruised by the Jackson interview, my advice: suck it up. Nothing said in those interview-excerpts hasn’t already been hammered home by media & fans, around the nation, ad nausea, for the past two years.

But it’s all a moot point now as the Knickerbockers made 2012 interim coach Mike Woodson their main-man. He could be the answer-man as the team seemed to find some direction, some stability under his late-season stewardship after D’Antoni’s departure.

This Knicks team needs more than direction to become a viable contender. It’s a group in need of a decorated-leader whose reputation compels all to subjugate their egos (Anthony / Stoudemire) and take instruction, especially when hard times test your resolve & faith.

Big question: Does Phil keep himself free on chance Woodson quickly becomes the out-man? My hunch: “Maybe no (Furio)” That's not Phil’s style.

The full HBO interview may shed more light on Phil Jackson's mindset.  Present reports indicate he's ready to venture back into the game in the right situation. Ending his coaching tenure where his NBA career began would’ve been special, but then the Knicks are a riddle that even the Zen-master or CIA bookworm would have trouble de-coding.

Steven Keys
Posted on: June 16, 2012 11:37 am

NBA's All-Time Best, Plus Teo

With the word “legacy” being tossed about in these NBA Finals like it’s the only reason for living, I got to thinking of those players who set the legacy-bar in the pro game.

Those memorables who’ve became the standard by which every aspiring superstar will eventually come to be measured.

Aspirants in these Finals would be the reigning MVP LeBron James, ring-holder Dwyane Wade and their up-start opponent, NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant.

And then there’s Russ Westbrook. An asset when he plays Scottie Pippen, second fiddle to OKC’s version of Michael Jordan, Mr. Durant. And if Russ hits the right notes at the right times, like Scottie, he just might get his ticket punched to Springfield, too (HOF).

Why just five all-time greatest hoopsters? Ever since Letterman made the top-ten list a national pastime it’s been run into the ground (ESPN).  And those top-100 lists were tiresome & tacky from the start (NFLN). Besides, picking the top five is a slam-dunk. After that, it gets a bit dicey.

5) Michael Jordan

Everyone’s #1 in the 40 & under group. I won’t get on that bandwagon. Mike comes in at #5. Cons: he never faced greatness in the Finals. Competition matters, a lot. Bulls beat a past-prime LA (‘91), Blazers (‘92), Suns (‘93), Sonics (‘96) and Jazz (1997-98). Then there’s Phil. Mike was more than a tweak away before Jackson arrived. The NPR coach is a basketball genius and deserves a share of the credit, winning in NY, Chicago and LA.

Pros: Two, back-to-back-to-back championship runs, an armful of MVPs and an unquenchable thirst for winning once he got a taste for it, all put him in this select group.

4) Larry Bird

Being half of the second greatest match-up in history gives you cachet. Three NBA titles (‘87 got away) and three MVPs gives you substance. Some would say his being the best white player of the past 35 years worked a bias, but Bird was no ‘great white (hype) hope.’ He had the shooting touch of Oscar Robertson, passing skills of Bob Cousy and rebounded like Dennis Rodman. And all these results with a chronic bad back, in the most competitive decade in NBA history, the 1980s. Before that back went out and Phil arrived in Chicago, head-to-head, Bird & Boston always had Jordan’s number, even when he put up 60 points.

3) Wilt Chamberlain

If the prize for ‘greatest player ever’ were awarded solely on talent, Chamberlain would get the nod easy. But as it stands today, titles have become the litmus test for greatness. He claimed the prize twice, first as a 76er, besting Boston along the way (’67), then in LA (’72). Coaching was the crux early on but when it finally coalesced in Philly, change came again. Though his shipment to LA formed a super trifecta (Baylor / West), all were winding down. Wilt’s best remembered for his individual feats, persona and battles with Bill.  He may've been his own worst enemy, albeit in a time of great culture clash.  Had his earlier career benefited from the team-stability enjoyed by the other four greats, Wilt the Stilt may’ve had a ring for every finger.

2) Bill Russell

Still #1 for fans-over-fifty, Bill’s the safe choice, given his ring-laden hands (11). Makes you wonder how Jordan can get the votes (6). Bill’s one of the great ‘might have beens’ (for St. Louis): drafted by Hawks (’56). Wilt-supporters (fans) always point to Bill’s team-talent as the winning-edge. With the likes of Sam Jones, Bob Cousy and Hondo Havlicek, it’s a fair point. But in their day, key battles were waged & won down low, in the paint, giants fighting for dominance. And no player (coach ‘66-69), then or since, has dripped more determination onto the hardwood than Mr. Russell.

1) Earvin “Magic” Johnson

Change is good, at least that‘s what we‘re told. I’m not a big fan, no one really is, but in this case, it’s apropos. It’s time Earvin was moved into the top spot. If Bill was Mr. determination, Magic was, well, magical. Nobody seemed to love the game…the GAME of basketball more than Earvin Johnson. America first saw that big smile when he ran the court as a Spartan and for the next 10 years it would light-up the NBA, receding only when he faced nemesis Bird and finally with his shocking AIDS announcement (’91).

Bill doubles-up Magic on titles and MVPs but the gold-standard (rings) is weighted by its karat-count: competition. Russell v Chamberlain was the battle-royal for posterity, but Magic and Lakers faced a more formidable field than did the 60s Celtics. The 80s had four great teams: Lakers, Celtics, 76ers and Pistons, with Bulls, Rockets & Bucks close behind. It’s why the introduction of professionalism into the Olympics (Dream Team) has been nothing more than a marketing money-grab and a farce.

Taking the O’Brien Trophy in his first NBA season (’79-80), subbing for Kareem in ‘87 (hook-shot heard ‘round the world) and even getting his weary Lakers back to the Finals one last time in ’91, all put Mr. Johnson on the highest pedestal. Congrats, Earvin.

Plus Teofilo 

As oddly loud as the sport pages have been recently with whining on the Bradley v Pacquiao decision (even Manny’s judge had it close @ 115-113), they’ve been as oddly quiet on the recent passing of another ‘greatest’ in sport. On June 11th it was announced Cuban boxer Teofilo Stevenson had died of a heart condition at the age of 60.

The undefeated, classy fighter settled for ‘greatest amateur,’ choosing to never turn pro after winning three Olympic heavyweight gold medallions, his first coming at Munich in 1972. By remaining loyal to Fidel Castro and Cuba, Teofilo created another big ‘might have been’: the Stevenson v Ali super-fight. And it would’ve been tremendous. The bad rap on TS: an unproven record. But those critics never saw him fight and then, in his era, the Olympics were the proving ground for prominence, catapulting names like Clay (Ali), Frazier, Foreman and Leonard. Fans of boxing history will remember Teofilo Stevenson.

Steven Keys
Posted on: June 3, 2012 4:54 pm
Edited on: June 6, 2012 12:12 pm

LeBron and Great Expectations

Like every NBA rookie, LeBron James had high hopes.

When he joined the Cavaliers right out high school (Akron) after being selected # 1 in the 2003 Draft, he surely thought anything was possible. As far as NBA accolades were concerned, the sky was the limit.

Not just because he was a phenomenal talent with a ton of hype, but because any team that uses the 1st overall pick on an untested 18-year old has gotta’ mean business, as in, the business of winning an NBA championship.

In retrospect, it seems the business Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert had in mind was less about building a champion and more about milking all he could from publicity generated by the most touted NBA rookie since Patrick Ewing.

Because the younger fan is less demanding in the expectation department and winning that elusive NBA title is quite costly, selling celebrity is the preferred choice of owners, marketers and those who would do their bidding (media).

Just take a gander back at Cleveland rosters from 2003 - 2010. It’s a wonder they ever made it to a Finals at all during James’ tenure in the Forest City (’07 Spurs). Best explanation: Cavs lone appearance in an NBA Finals was a testament to team-play, good coaching, an unexceptional East and LeBron James’ strong back.

While Dan’s goals for his prized player seemed unambitious, the rest of America has had nothing but great expectations of LJ from the get-go, including a title or two.

Great Expectations: It's a famous work by Charles Dickens (1860). I’ve seen the David Lean movie (‘46) but never cracked the book. By the time I’d become a human being, educators were passing on the classics. In short, it’s a tortuous story of an orphaned boy (“Pip”) and his rise to a class of “great expectations” with help from a secret benefactor.

But besides being crowned 'Most Very Popular' player thrice, two forgettable Finals and making lots ‘o loot, LeBron’s been more expectation than great. "Clutch Cargo" he ain’t.

James isn’t alone.

The hype-hero is a frequent player on the public stage.

A select few matched or exceeded their buildup (Gretzky / Jordan / Woods / Magic / Bird / Montana).

Some who sipped champagne early never went back for more (Chipper / Ripken / Dale Jr. / Roddick / Daley), while others proved marketing mirages, either total busts (Leaf / Oden / JaMarcus), not as advertised (Mandrich / Bosworth) or perennial winners who were fantasy favorites but never grabbed the brass-ring (Bonds / Marino).

Then there are Kareem & Wilt. Arguably the two best b-ballers in history, maybe the two best athletes ever. But even with armfuls of MVPs, both fell short of great expectations. Alcindor took but one title in Milwaukee (’71) and when back in LA, it was Ervin’s magic that put Lakers back on top (’80). And while Wilt is still king of the record-book, he must’ve rued the day he ever met Bill Russell and his Boston Celtics.

Tony Romo, Mike Vick, Alex Ovechkin, Dwight Howard, Phil Rivers and Matt Ryan’s stars still burn but are fading, while stories on the newest hype-heroes like Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Bryce Harper, Steve Strasburg and Danica Patrick are still being written.

Even when your best days are behind (Woods), the hype-machine can keep chuggin’ along. Though, in Tiger’s case it’s understandable, given how none of today’s one-win wonders on the PGA seems interested or capable of ascending to his throne.

Just remember this next time your super-hero falls short of expectations: 1) They don’t run the hype-machine or set content at ESPN; and 2) Apart from bowling, bull-riding, golf, etc., team-sport requires a team-effort. “One for all, all for one (Three Musketeers).”

While Gretzky and Jordan exceeded expectations, look at the rosters they occupied: HOF’ers, All-Stars, proven supporting cast and top-notch gurus (Jackson / Sather) filled the bill. Winning a title in the NBA and the like still requires a talented roster, no matter how much your titillated talk-radio meathead would have you think otherwise.

To keep his mythical crown, King James needs a real title-ring.

Heat v Lakers was preferred Finals for NBA brass, but then the tres is risky business, Mr. Brown (OKC / G2). In fact, any of the four possible match-ups is a ratings salivator.

Whomever does get there, it ain‘t gonna’ be easy.

Big-hearted Celtics got moxie to burn but age & depth make ‘em vulnerable, while high-energy OKC’s maturity-level gives ring-laden, re-focused ‘Patriots of San Antonio’ the decided edge.

“The really big shew (Sullivan),” ain’t from Reebok. It’s pro basketball’s biggest stage, the NBA Finals. A place where substance rules while flash, ego and roster holes get exposed right quick. It’s where even old, tattered expectations of greatness can finally be fulfilled and worn with pride, as Dirk “Pip” Nowitzki did in last year’s Finale.

If His Majesty and the Heat can channel an inside game and go easy on the three, Mr. James just might complete that royal ensemble fans & marketing mavens across America have long been expecting.

Steven Keys
Posted on: May 22, 2012 12:25 pm

How the Tres Tamed the NBA

They were giants of the sporting world: names like Mikan, Pettit, Russell, Wilt the Stilt, Truck, Moses, The Enforcer, the Big O, the Big E and the Big Redhead.

Basketball’s leviathans in the low post.

Fans thrilled at their combination of size, strength and agility. The battles they fought under the boards defined the NBA and made sport headlines for nearly 40 years.

But change is the constant in a consumer democracy.

The Chuck Taylor high-tops and short-shorts are long gone, replaced with hideous foot-wear and a plethora of prison-yard tattoos. Historic but cramped old arenas gave-way to bigger & brighter venues with better seats, paint-happy hardwood and $12.50 nachos.

And no change has been greater than disappearance of the inside game. In particular, the demise of the dominant center and power-forward.

Different from women’s basketball where the tall pivot player still reigns, the menacing man in the middle has become an endangered species.

Since the days of Kareem Abdul Jabbar you could count on two hands the number of big men who’ve dominated down low: Bob Parish, Bird, McHale, Laimbeer, Shaq, Rodman, Magic, Olajuwon, Duncan and Karl Malone nearly fill out a very short list.

The culprit: NBA’s adoption of the three-point shot.

The National was sitting pretty in the late 70s, having absorbed what remained of a monopolized ABA (1976) and negotiated lucrative TV / merchandise deals. But a dramatic rise in player salaries gave some jughead in a Suit reason to get creative.

In 1979 they reached into their former rival’s bag of tricks (the American employed the dunk and the tres in 1968 “as marketing tool(s) to compete with the NBA (Wikipedia)” and pulled out the three-point gimmick to prime the pump.

Basketball’s never been the same.

There had been a balance, a symmetry, a ying & yang in roundball.

Fans were treated to two theaters of play: one inside, where bruisers like Nate Thurmond, Dantley, Unseld, Reed, Walton, Lanier, Cowens, Gilmore and Dan Issel waged war; the other, out on the key where long-rangers Jerry West, Bing, Frazier, Maravich, Gervin, Winters and Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson could Heat it up in a hurry.

As long as both theaters had direction there was a symbiosis and the game flourished.

But by the mid-80s the physical, combative play which for years had made the sport so colorful…vanished. Centers and power forwards regressed into mere supporting players or disappeared all together. Much of the action moved away from the paint and up to the high-post where guards and guard-wannabes directed the flow and became the stars.

The spotlight swung away from bangers and over to finesse guys like Julius Erving and Mike Jordan as the 3-pointer and un-contested dunk became signature plays of the NBA.

If you see a guy in the low-post today chances are he’s only waiting on an alley-oop or mesmerized as an opponent dunks on his head. Post game both will hug & laugh about it.

As most NBA rookies are today on the 5-year maturation plan, they’ll never develop the wide range of skills that even stylers like Dr. J and Jordan would eventually pick-up.

“You don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle” (Seinfeld).

They don’t sell the game anymore, they sell celebrity (endorsements), air-time (TV / Twitter / fantasy) and merchandise (cantaloupe-sized driver heads and wicked metal bats in Little League (Outside the Lines; 3/1/11)). If it generates a nice revenue stream, then history, integrity and sometimes safety, it would appear, all get swept under the rug.

When big-shots like Kevin Love (6’10) and Kevin Durant (6’9) spend half their time on the perimeter you know the game’s gone soft. Both should live inside 15 feet. Instead, the past four seasons has seen a steady up-tick in their 3PAs. It's surprising, given the tremendous shooting touch both possess (FG%: .457 / .468) when not launching 3s.

So much for pumping-up the offense.

In comparison, the newly-crowned MVP LeBron James has seen his 3PA% decrease each of the past three seasons: 25% (‘09-10); 19% (‘11); 13% (abridged ‘12). That’s growth.

Prime example of the tamer NBA: With 6 ticks left on the clock and down by only one vs OKC (PS G2 '12), rather than design a drive to the hoop for two, likely draw the foul, and even with a miss and no whistle, ball’s in play for a rebounded score (Gasol / Bynum), Lakers Coach Mike Brown opts for the thrilling, unnecessary, low-percentage 3-pointer that Steve Blake rims out. Blake & Brown are lambasted but what the Lakers did was SOP in today’s b-ball.

There are men who keep the spirit alive with dynamic play in the paint. A few of the standouts: centers Tim Duncan, Howard, Pau Gasol, Bynum and Joakim Noah; forwards Blake Griffin, Garnett, Cousins, Humphries and Atlanta’s Josh Smith.

It’s time to bounce the 3-pointer outta’ the gym. Send it, along with the dunk contest and home run derby over to where they all belong: Saturday morning TV.

Then watch the roundball renaissance begin.

Steven Keys
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com