It was a summer day at the poker table. Since not many sports were broadcast in July and they needed to fill the flat screen TVs with something, they were rebroadcasting the 1985 NBA Finals featuring the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. These teams featuring Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and a litany of hall of famers are often considered two of the best basketball teams ever assembled. I agreed with this conventional wisdom until I began watching the game.
Two of the most obvious differences from this game and the basketball played today was players did not play defense in 1985, nor did they jump. The athleticism on display was not too far away from what one might see in a modern women’ s professional basketball game. The 1985 professional basketball player lacked the speed, strength, and leaping abilities found in today’s game. It became apparent quickly that not only would these “great” Lakers and Celtics teams be killed by today’s top NBA teams, but would also probably lose to a second tier team like the Atlanta Hawks or Los Angeles Clippers. I shared this opinion with my fellow degenerate gamblers and received shock and outrage in return.
“Nobody could guard Kevin McHale.” a fifty year old Black man with a foul smelling jacket insisted. McHale, who you might remember as a Herman Munster lookalike in short shorts who guest starred on Cheers several times, weighed as much as Dwight Howard’s left bicep. McHale would not be able to get himself close enough to the basket to perform his famed low post moves.
Another card player started listing how many all-stars were on each of the 1985 Finals’ participants’ rosters. I told him those same players couldn’t make the starting line-ups on many of today’s NBA teams. “But they’re in the hall of fame.”
“You would be too if you were playing against a bunch of slow guys who smoked cigarettes at halftime.”
Our argument was going nowhere as he kept spouting out statistics and my evidence was for him to watch the game on the television. He never did lift his head. He stayed stubborn and used the games in his memory as his evidence. To be fair there was a certain amount of money at stake, but even more understandable was his desire to keep the belief that things were better in the good old days.