In the Cheap Seats
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

June 9, 2004 -- Basketball or basketbrawl? I guess it depends on which side of the elbow you're on.

I've seen Arizona Cardinal games that weren't as physical as the NBA playoffs this year. What is supposed to pass as basketball at its purest and highest form - remember, these are the best players in the world - has deteriorated into a no-holds-barred free-for-all.

I keep expecting Mo to gouge Curly in the eye and give Larry a noogie as the Keystone Cops rumble, bumble, stumble their way on what is supposed to be a fast break. As a matter of fact, I think I did see that last night.

It was at least something that looked frighteningly similar.

The entire Eastern Conference playoffs have looked like that, and now the Detroit Pistons are dogging the NBA Finals, and the Lakers are catching some of their fleas. The saving grace of the playoffs has been the fluid play of the Western Conference teams, but the Pistons are sabotaging that artistry.

We've witnessed Ben Wallace going in for a lay-up and hitting the bottom of the backboard - not just the bottom of the rim, but the backboard - three-point attempts clanging off the shot clock, and so many airballs that they need to put up signs with arrows saying "basket this way."

Whether it's the fault of the coaches, players or referees - and they all deserve some blame - the NBA game has spiraled down the aesthetic drain. Seeing a player drive in for a lay-up and get knocked into the third row without a foul being called is not pleasing to watch, but it's happening on a regular basis.

The rough-and-bumble play goes beyond the hard foul. It's seeped into the holding, pushing, bumping, grabbing and shoving that goes on every possession. It used to be that stuff just happened after the game when the players visited the adult-only clubs.

Now, it happens continuously, even in the playoffs, which should showcase the talents of the players, not be an instructional video for assault and battery.

There was a time when basketball was the most fluid of all sports, an acrobatic display of running, leaping and shooting. It was It used to be described as ballet above the rim, not bull in a China shop.

This isn't just old-man syndrome of "Things were better in my day. We used flat balls and rims nailed to the side of trees, and we liked it. We loved it." It's not that.

It's more about the degradation of a game that deserves better - we as fans certainly deserve better. It's also about the wool-pulling that's going on by the TNT, ESPN and ABC commentators. No matter what they tell you, this isn't the best brand of basketball.

I'm not sure it's even good basketbrawl.

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