I'm curious to see how many of our readers were able to catch NBA TV recently as they aired Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz, now famous for being Michael Jordan's flu game. I've long contended that the obsession with Michael Jordan by people in my age bracket (18-26) is a bit of a joke considering none of us were actually old enough to remember or appreciate how good he was. But that replay offered everyone a rare glimpse at how the NBA has changed from the way they were playing it just 15 years ago to now, and also gave me the first chance in my lifetime to actually appreciate Michael Jordan.
I'll start with the game. Of course it was aired without the usual breaks in between for TV timeouts and referee check ins at the scorers table for an absurdly long time, but overall, there was an obvious difference in the way they were playing compared to now. The number one thing that I noticed was game flow.
When is the last time you watched an NBA game and saw 6 consecutive possessions without a whistle being blown for a foul? Better yet, when is the last time you saw Dwayne Wade attack the basket with the mindset of laying the ball in the hoop rather than trying to draw a foul? Both of these phenomenons were on full display in the throwback game, and it wasn't a fluke, this is the way the game used to played and officiated.
It was incredible to see the ball worked around, dumped into the post, kicked back out, taken to the lane for a finish, and amazingly the whistle never blew. Someone just missed or made a shot, the other team grabbed a hard fought rebound, and the pattern repeated itself back up the floor going the other way. I saw better defenders, finishers, and passers in the Bulls game than any team I've watched in last year's NBA playoffs. Not only would the Bulls have run through that field, but I can also assure you the Jazz would have had no trouble either, as long as the game was played and officiated in that era's style.
Another glaring difference was the overall intensity of the game; And it wasn't just the players, it was the fans too. I'm not sure what exactly has happened with today's athletes but all of the sudden its become okay and accepted to be friends with your opponents. I know everyone is going to point at the Pacers-Heat series from last year as an example of two teams that did not like each other, and yes you could tell they didn't. But 90% of the supposed physical play was your typical "thug posturing" that players (Danny Granger) now seem to embrace. What I watched last night was guys literally elbowing, punching, and tackling each other for lose balls. There was no show or talking, the physicality was happening right before my eyes – but apparently not the referees because they did not make one call because of physical play.
I've never seen a game in which every possession was played with such intensity and the fans were so engaged and I'm not talking about just the fourth quarter. There was a fight for every possession and every made basket. Everyone told me that the NBA Playoffs were different than the regular season, that it was so intense and I need to pay attention to it. So I did, I hate to break your heart but its the same vanilla game for 3 quarters and then the 4th quarter is a war. That wasn't the way it played out in the Bulls-Jazz game, I saw two teams scrape for every inch from the moment I put the game on (midway through the second quarter) until it ended. The effort and intensity was not even close.
Finally, Michael Jordan. All I can say is wow! I know this is one of his legendary games but I definitely did finally get the chance to appreciate why everyone calls him the best player ever. I can't imagine that there is a player now that deserves his comparison, go watch that game and please try to argue that LeBron, even Kobe for that matter, belong in his class.
When push came to shove and the game was on the line, he had the ball in his hands on every posession down the stretch, and finished them. Including a monster three that put his team ahead for the first time with less than a minute to go. It was amazing to see how effortless Jordan did it, nothing looked forced, it was a simple, "Get me the ball, I'll take care of this for us and make sure we leave with a series lead" attitude, and he delivered.
In conclusion, the Bulls-Jazz game summed up everything that I now feel is wrong with the NBA and validated my point that the game has changed. Do yourself a huge favor and go back and watch a playoff game then compared to now. I can guarantee you will come to the same conclusion that I have.