Charles Oakley needs to do what I often have wished Charles Barkley would do: Shut the heck up!
For I’ve tired of hearing retired stars like Oakley bemoaning how their sport has changed – how much lesser the NBA is in comparison to what the league was when they were playing.
"I don't know what it is,” Oakley said the other day. “They just roll you out there like a basketball. That's why ... you see the same teams in the finals or winning 55 games. Strong teams, strong-minded coach. Just the players, they don't think it, they don't know how to play together.
“So that's one of things I see the weakness is: Communication, the guys don't love the game. They play the game, but they don't play with their heart."
How does a man judge who has heart? How does Oakley?
The game has a different feel to it since he bulldozed his way through defenders. The shooting is much straighter; and the NBA has eliminated the brutish play that defined the careers of Oakley, Barkley, Rick Mahorn, Bill Laimbeer, Anthony Mason and Moses Malone.
Did they have more heart than the players of today do? Or has the game really evolved since their goon days?
For the first question, I would answer “no.” For the second, I would answer “yes.”
Basketball today isn’t as physical. The NBA game is more finesse and long-range shooting than it ever was when Oakley wore a NBA uniform.
As much as I enjoyed the brutishness of NBA yesteryear, I can’t begin to compare play then with NBA play now.
Nobody back then could shoot off the dribble like Steph Curry, and I might even argue that only Michael Jordan could play the all-court game Oakley remembers. LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and James Harden can do so now, and they are better schooled than the stars were of Oakley’s generation.
It would be silly, however, not to give Oakley’s era its due. For the period allowed us to enjoy Allen Iverson, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing and Barkley, players whose stardom defined the era more than pure heart ever could.
The game now has bruisers of its own. They might not be of the Oakley ilk, but they don’t have to be. The game has changed since Jordan’s Chicago Bulls reigned.
I should celebrate the reign of “Air Jordan,” as I now celebrate LeBron’s reign as the brightest star in the sport. I don’t need two Charleses to share their nearsighted opinions of the league.
Still, I can’t shake the feeling that Oakley wants the game to return to what it used to be.
It won’t. The NBA has evolved in ways that Oakley’s game could not have fit. The players today are leaner and more mobile, their shooting touch more deft than it was back in his days.
"Who do I like watching?" the gray-haired Oakley said. "It’s hard to watch. I don't know; it's just a different game. It's some good games and a lot of bad games. More bad games than good games these days."
I guess Oakley forgot about some of the sorry games that NBA teams played when he was in the league.
But, hey, that’s OK. I’ll sit back and cherish the Technicolor moments that have pushed NBA officials to places they might not want to go. They don’t want to go anywhere, however, with Oakley as the tour guide.
Basketball isn’t mixed martial arts or the NHL, which is what it often looked like at times during his career. If that’s what Oakley wants the NBA to be, he ought to stop watching the league.
For he won’t see the league of his day no more than Jim Brown, Alan Page and Paul Warfield will see the NFL of their day. For that period, thankfully, is gone with the wind.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
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