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Matt Barnes says the NBA has gotten soft

Aug 6, 2013, 11:01 AM EDT

Los Angeles Clippers v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Six Getty Images

During the offseason NBA TV will reshow some classic games and when you look back at older eras a few things jump out at you. For one, the game was played much faster in the 1980s — the Dallas Mavericks were the slowest paced team in 1985 at 98.8 possessions a game, the Rockets were the fastest in 2013 at 96.1.

Also, back in the 1980s and 90s, the game was allowed to be much more physical.

Matt Barnes was watching some of those old games and sent out this tweet.

There are a lot of fans who ask the same question.

The answer is that many more fans stopped watching. During the 1990s teams used that physical play to turn the NBA game into much more of a grind, a battle nightly, and once the star of Michael Jordan went away a lot of fans showed their distaste for the style of play by tuning out. Ratings means money for television contracts, and money is what drivesthe league.

Calling the game tighter and making hand checking on the perimeter a foul opened the game up — quickness mattered, ball handling mattered, not just who could score through another hard foul. That combined with (and partially inspired by) bigs who could handle the ball on the wings (Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and so on) changed the entire idea of positions and how to win games. Eventually ratings returned (although they now and forever remain star driven mostly).

The bottom line is the guys who played in the 1960s thought the game of the 1980s was soft. Now guys from the ‘80s think today’s game is soft. In 20 years we can hear Kobe Bryant complain about how the game in 2030 is soft. It’s a cycle that will go on as long as the NBA.

  1. nygdriveforfive - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    Charles Oakley agrees.

    • nycalldayz - Aug 6, 2013 at 1:05 PM

      That’s all Oakley did was give hard fouls nothing else. Knicks fans are still living in the 90’s. lol

      • 4thehaters - Aug 6, 2013 at 3:52 PM

        Actually, he was their most consistent shooter inside the free throw line. He was also a rebounding machine. Maybe you’re too young to have watched him play

      • kraburn91 - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:28 PM

        People don’t think it be like it is, but it do.

    • cornbreadbbqred - Aug 6, 2013 at 2:42 PM

      Matt, you look like Charley Chaplin with tattoos out there with all your whining? You are the last to remark on this topic! And by the way, lose the corny Kanye sobriquet. You ain’t hard!

      • 4thehaters - Aug 6, 2013 at 3:53 PM

        You must be really hard

  2. dj3garrett - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    I don’t understand why some complain about BASKETBALL being soft and then praise the 80’s and how refs let everything go (tackling, hand checking, mugging, fighting, etc…) If you want to be physical, why don’t you sign up for football? The league isn’t soft, it’s the way BASKETBALL is supposed to be played… They played prison ball back in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s… It would be nice to see as a fan if the league was played like the 80’s but as a player it would suck unless you were a below average player… I fill that a lot players that lack in skill resort to dirty play because they know they can’t win off talent… Maybe that’s why Matt Barnes wants the league to be like that again… Hahahahah

    • m4a188 - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:57 AM

      It doesn’t help to have players flopping all over the place.

      • skinsfanwill - Aug 6, 2013 at 3:39 PM

        It doesn’t help to have the refs calling that crap. If they stop calling it then players would stop doing it. it’s that simple.

      • shanydawg - Aug 6, 2013 at 5:09 PM

        SkinsFanWill said it best. I don’t know why people want to vilify players simply for using every possible advantage they can find to win games. THAT is what they’re paid to do. When flopping becomes a non-advantage, they’ll stop doing it. That said… it’s a VERY tough call for refs to make. Lets face it… there might be 1 or 2 flops a game?… is it REALLY that big a deal!?!

    • wadejh2013 - Aug 6, 2013 at 12:10 PM

      As much as I liked the 80’s I don’t want to watch a basketball game today and see some guy get continually clotheslined. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the occassional “that guy is waltzing down the lane too much, send a message” foul. I don’t want to see that every trip down the floor.

    • imichigokurosaki - Aug 6, 2013 at 2:59 PM

      Dude you must be as soft as tissue in your everyday life and you seriously sound like a female because any real man understands/knows exactly what he is talking about. First of all nobody said the game should be about tackling, nor did they allow that kind of thing to happen without a whistle being blown back than. So your football comment was stupid and if you really knew basketball technically there isn’t anything wrong with hand checking. Hand checking was not just beneficial for the player on defense, it was also beneficial for the player on offense as well. It helped the offensive player establish ground/get a great feel of the person on defense.

      Which than allowed them if they wished to post up or like a Michael Jordan to fake with the post up, than fade away or fake with the post, than fake with the fade and do a up and under once he gets the player off balance. Back than you had to earn your points, there wasn’t no cry cry cry, every time a grown azz man who is supposed to be the strongest most dominant force in th league(lebron) gets taped. So what he is saying in so many words is and why the word soft gets thrown out there. If you are a real man, you should want it where nothing is made easy for you.

      You should want to learn how even if you get fouled to play through it and score anyway(Michael Jordan)You should want by the end of the game to have a knot on your forehead, bruise, blood somewhere etc and was still able to win the game because as a man it brings out the warrior in you. Which answered your questions at the end of the day, when you looked in the mirror and said, did I truly have what it took to be a champion. Was I truly tested, pushed to my ultimate limit. Which than makes it all the better when you win a championship because it showed you how bad you wanted for the simple fact that you actually went through the true trials and tribulations of not only the physical part of the game but the mental.

      That was the main purpose of why a team knocked you around back than, after awhile if you were weak minded or not mentally tough, it would affect your game. So when you were able to conquer that, not only did it develop inner strength, it also developed character, made you a better man in your everyday life. Think about this homie, why do you think all of these players now or going to all the old school players asking them to train them in the off season. Why do you think players like Chris Paul hang with Michael Jordan, why Lebron keeps a picture of Michael guarding him etc. It has more to do than them wanting to learn their moves or in lebrons case to be better than that player.

      They want every single thing about that player and what made that player who they were to rub off on them. Which case in point, the physical era they played in, made them that way. The only reason why the league is the way it is now is because Stern is trying to protect his investments, which is understandable but when you think about in all I just said as far as these new players going to the old trying to get that same eye of the tiger so to speak like edge.

      Stern is hurting them more than helping. It has developed into a flopping, where is my call ref every time I’m touched like atmosphere. A copping out, cheap way to win. Dude I can go on and on but like I said, you would have to be a real man to understand these things.

      • imichigokurosaki - Aug 6, 2013 at 3:05 PM

        To all the other readers, forgive my spelling errors

  3. Charles Dickson - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:37 AM

    Reblogged this on Charles Dickson and commented:
    Very true but this is happening in all pro sports. Even though now there’s technology to help players recover faster than ever, physical play has diminished. A lot of basketball fans would tell Matt Barnes if he wants to be play physical he should go play in the NFL.

    At the end of the day, I agree will always be the first to say that the NBA has gotten soft but i’m bias. I love the basketball era in the 80s and 90s. We all knows those were the prime years of the NBA. We can argue about this subject all day, however if I’m wrong or right there’s nothing you can tell me that will change my mind.

  4. pudgalvin - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    I watched Hornets/Celtics from the ’93 playoffs last night and it really did amaze me how much quicker the game was. Every change of possession, make or miss, you had both teams sprinting down the court trying to outrun the defense. You’d think a team with the older versions of Parish and McHale would be really slow playing but they got and ran with Mourning and LJ and Bogues. Pretty fun game to watch.

    Also amazing: the post players could play with their back to the basket and the perimeter players could make a jumpshot that wasn’t a standing catch and shoot three.

    That being said, I’m fine with the game today. I’d rather see a Durant or a Lebron or a Rose be able to really showcase their ridiculous athleticism than make players like Kendrick Perkins or Tyler Hansborough featured defense stoppers just because they play rough and don’t have the skills to play with the other guys.

    • imakcds - Aug 6, 2013 at 1:27 PM

      I can’t agree with your conclusion. It’s a team game, and there’s a place and a role for different levels of talent, different skill sets.
      It used to be Get Up, Shut Up, MAN UP.
      you are advocating the err….Feminization (for want of a printable word) of the game.
      That style of play didnt stop the Doctor, Dominique, Jordan, etc, and the best athletes overcome ALL obstacles.

  5. sportsnut101 - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:55 AM

    Jordan would live aT foul line 20 Free throws a game in today’s game

  6. 00maltliquor - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    Matt is right. David Stern effed a lot of things up. Football’s gotten mega-soft too though.

  7. bucrightoff - Aug 6, 2013 at 12:08 PM

    There hasn’t been a single playoff series with the year 2000 as a prefix that comes anywhere close to the kind of greatness Knicks-Pacers and Knicks-Bulls series would give us in the 90’s. Hard fought, phsyical battles, with no such thing as easy baskets. Today’s NBA is about letting the stars shine by basically calling any sort of physical defense a foul, which is ironic because the NBA will never reach the peaks it had in the 90’s ever again.

    • lmoneyfresh - Aug 6, 2013 at 3:01 PM

      It’s funny because the Bulls play pretty close to the 90’s style defense and people just cry about it. People want to see tough defense, just not against their teams.

  8. senorpapino - Aug 6, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    Most fans would agree with Barnes.

  9. saintjohnwhodat - Aug 6, 2013 at 12:18 PM

    Very well written article, this is evidence what rodman said about lebron and today’s game, it just isn’t physical, if lebron had a hard time from that pacers big and a old Duncan how would heat and lebron do with Ewing Hakeem shaq(young) Robinson Malone, Hahahaha mj for life

  10. 3martinis - Aug 6, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    I don’t think it’s that the NBA has gotten soft, but…..
    the players of the past had a different level of love for playing the game of basketball…..I felt that players of the past were more passionate about the sport & it was a business, as well…
    In my opinion for some players now, it’s a business & they, also play the game of basketball.

  11. daubs17 - Aug 6, 2013 at 12:27 PM

    talk about the pot an the kettle with this guy, hes one of the biggest cry babies in the nba. someone looks at him wrong he falls down and throws his hands in the air looking for the ref and his whistle

  12. dls612 - Aug 6, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    I agree,even down to the refs you can’t show any emotion or even laugh at a bad call without getting a tech, just ask tim duncan.

  13. imakcds - Aug 6, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    The one thing I’ve always liked about Matt Barnes is his Toughness, and I think, besides being an intelligent, all around contributor, that is what has kept him in the league.
    I love the fact that if you venture into the lane with Barnes around, you’re probably going down.
    Get Up, Quit Crying, Let’s Play some Ball!

  14. nycalldayz - Aug 6, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    I agree the league is softer. But I think it’s unfair to single out Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki as partially to do with the softness of today’s league. That’s just lazy an excuse and poor example, Kurt Helin. Can’t blame KG and Dirk for their style of play, they’re two lanky 7 footers with no girth that can handle the rock and shoot. Don’t forget KG came into the league in ’95 when hand checking, hard fouls and trash talking was allowed.

    I think u can point the finger at David Stern and NBA officials like Joe Crawford and so on. As the years went by David Stern changed the rules on how the game should be played. Refs like Joe Crawford get trigger happy with the whistle. Stern implemented more rule changes especially after the brawl in Detroit of 2004. So Matt u wanna blame someone, then start with Mr.Stern.

    • Kurt Helin - Aug 7, 2013 at 3:12 PM

      I used Dirk and KG as an example not of softness but of guys whose skill sets defy traditional positional roles. It’s one of the way the game is changing.

      Work on your reading comprehension.

  15. kb2408 - Aug 6, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    Oakley did more than just “give hard fouls”, sir. He was a very good rebounder, defender and mid-range scorer (especially on the baselines).

  16. stealthieone - Aug 6, 2013 at 1:58 PM

    It all goes back to the zone defense. The zone defense is why I watch just the finals and nothing else. Even then i’m not enjoying watching 5 defenders stand in the lane. Just think if zone defense was around when Jordan was playing…how many dunks would we not have seen because 3-5 defenders are camped out in the paint/key. The zone defense slows the game down. It gives unathletic teams a chance…ie the mavs. Would they have won their championship with out a zone defense? I doubt it. When I see zone it ruins the experience. I’m not even sure how you can tell who is a good defender when people are allowed to not guard a player. To triple team players…to literally camp out in the lane…since the 3 second violation is rarely called.

  17. antistratfordian - Aug 6, 2013 at 2:02 PM

    I stopped reading at “Matt Barnes says”

  18. cornbreadbbqred - Aug 6, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    Oh, I suppose not beating your lady with an arm full of tattoos is hard? Matt is lucky the league is soft these days or he would have long been broken in two, career over, if he were made to submit to the style of play in the past. Can you imagine Rick Mahorn or Charlse Oakley hard-fouling him? He’d end up in traction!

  19. ProBasketballPundit - Aug 6, 2013 at 3:21 PM

    Kurt, you’re right on about the pace of the game slowing down. I actually did the math one time to compare Oscar Robertson and LeBron James statistics and if LeBron’s teams played at the same pace as Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati Royals teams then LBJ would also be averaging well over a triple double. Not to take away from Big O… just he benefited statistically from the pace of the game back then.

  20. nthmover - Aug 6, 2013 at 3:22 PM

    in today’s game, lebron’s ball dominant, drive-and-kick style thrives in today’s game where guys take and make 4 times as many threes as they did in the 80’s. in addition to making the drive and kick style more effective (since guys make shots on the kickout), the 3-point shooting also creates optimal spacing, which had never existed previously in basketball – defenders to have to cover more ground and hug shooters, ultimately creating the optimal spacing that greatly facilitates dribble forays to the hoop and the ball-dominant style lebron enjoys.

    in the 80’s, where the floor spreaders simply weren’t there, a ball-dominant style would fail since it would be brick city on the drive and kick. this allowed defenders to clog the paint, nullifying the effectiveness of ball dominant styles in that era. the allowing of hand-checking and other physical measures by defenders only further decreased the effectiveness of a ball dominant style in that era.

    jordan showed that in an era devoid of 3-point shooting and optimal spacing, that playing off-the-catch and making quick decisions with the ball, along with an elite mid-range and post game was optimal for winning in that era – he proved this with two three-peats.

    so the best players of each era were had mastered what was optimal to win in that time period. obviously, mj would have to do what russell did to win in russell’s era, lebron would have to do what mj did to win in mj’s era (play off the ball/off-the-catch, and have goat mid-range and post game), and mj would have to do what lebron is doing to win in this era (play with a team full of floor spreaders).

    • Kurt Helin - Aug 7, 2013 at 3:06 PM

      Another key difference in eras is the allowing of zone defenses — I can keep a big near the paint to protect the rim in a way you could not in the 1980s (you could make the defender follow his man wherever). Zone defenses and the overload/Thibodeau defense put a premium on floor spacing shooters.

  21. zelaya322 - Aug 6, 2013 at 3:36 PM


  22. liamj55 - Aug 6, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    I wondered if he noticed the dribbling back than. I think the biggest thing that hurts the game is the carry.

  23. 4thehaters - Aug 6, 2013 at 3:49 PM

    90% of those who watch the NBA are those looking for quick fix entertainment. The other 10% actually follow the sport, and know more about the gave vs “how many points you score”

    Barnes is right. The league is soft. Every player is overpaid. Players these days are paid based on potential. Their greedy and want more. Fake injuries, not playing because their ankle is sore etc..Everything is based on jumpshots. No more post play. Defenders allow you to drive to the basket for easy 2’s. It’s a small mans game these days, hence jumpshot city. Everyone wants to look pretty, oversized jerseys and colorful neon shoes

    Back in the 90’s was the real deal. Players earned their pay. Never cried about how much money they were getting paid. Drive to the basket in the 90’s and you will get laid out. Plenty of post players back then, Ewing, Robinson, Olajuwon, etc…It’s not like that anymore. Any player in the 90’s could play in the league today. It won’t work the other way around. You may have 10 players today who can play in the 90’s

    Look at all star weekend now vs the 90’s. It’s the WWE vs actual competition. Use to have 12 dunkers back in the 90’s competing vs the WWE now with 4 or 6 dunkers. All the lighting, bright lights blah blah blah

    NBA is a business. It’s about making money. Entertaining the common household. Back in the 90’s, it was all about competitiveness, the toughness, physicality, with the “i don’t care about your mom” mentality
    So yeah, it’s really soft

    • mikeystyles - Aug 6, 2013 at 8:20 PM

      Couldn’t agree more & might as well throw the 80’s in there for good measure as well. The game has changed in some ways for the better but mostly for the bad. Owners GMs & HC’s have player safety of the brain & that’s because as one person said these guys are more paid on potential then ever before so now the NBA as well as teams must protect their investments from injury. I understand some of the safety rules & agree these guys need to be protected but @ what cost to “the game” itself do we finally stop. This also applies to the NFL as well.

    • arrondior - Aug 7, 2013 at 11:01 AM

      Overpaid… no. These guys earn their fair share. You see the owners handle personnel, marketing, upkeep of the arena, staffing. Players focus on being GOOD. The split between owners and NBA players is one of the most fair divisions of profit in the United States. Players get paid on 3 things, their talent, ability to generate revenue, or demand for a skill set. When a player has nothing to offer, they find themselves out of the league.

      Soft… no. These guys are playing by the rules set by the league. Although post play is not as rough, it still dominates the league. The Heat are an outlier for breaking the mold that basically makes or breaks most teams effectiveness in the play-offs (having a strong front court). That’s like calling NFL players soft for following rule changes to tackles. Also, players don’t frequently participate in the dunk contest because A. They spend most of their time working on their game and not “trick” shots. B. Catching an injury AS weekend to win a dunk contest is pretty dumb.

      I enjoy the NBA and have watched it evolve over 20+ years. I actually enjoy the fact that the overall talent and parity of the league seems to be in a much better place now than it ever has been. Typically, in the past you had 4-5 REALLY good teams and then the rest of the League was pretty bad to watch.

  24. ejphenom - Aug 6, 2013 at 3:57 PM

    The game is definitely softer. Refs are reacting to flops rather than actual fouls and the players are taking advantage of it. Thats why there isn’t many elite defenders as it used to be because you can’t even touch a guy without the whistle being blown. That’s why Jordan gets as much props as he does because he would get mugged going to the rim and still make the shot.

  25. ruggedry - Aug 6, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    Soft this game now days is 100% CottoN

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