We once shook Charles Oakley’s monstrous hand and watched him intimidate a room full of reporters during an event in New York City. He’s always a great quote, when he wants to be. The former Raptor — he was honored with a Bobblehead last night in Toronto — Knick, Bull, Wizard and Rocket always has an effect when he enters the room, even when he’s walking in with his buddy, Michael Jordan.
He’s also sometimes prone to embellishment like he was when he spoke in Toronto on Bobblehead Night at the Air Canada Centre. He was of course asked whether he likes watching games these days, and his response was rather predictable if you’ve ever talked with a former player:
“Who do I like watching? It’s hard to watch,” he said. “I don’t know, it’s just, it’s a different game. It’s some good games and a lot of bad games. More bad games than good games these days.”
“The mind is not — you don’t have to be strong to play this game no more,” he said.
“I don’t know what it is. 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,” he said. “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.”
Oakley was an assistant on the Charlotte then-Bobcats during the 2011-12 season, when they finished with the worst record (7-59) in NBA history. Perhaps that’s what clouded his thinking when he spoke Friday night. He said as much when alluding to the current cranky response former players usually give when they’re asked about the modern NBA:
“Everybody says the game has changed, instead of talking about the guys [sic] I got a chance to see ’em first hand,” he said. “It was kind of bad.”
Former players almost always say today’s NBA players are coddled, weaklings more concerned with their brand than winning. Their argument rests on the notion current guys could never survive the rigors of truly tough post play, hand checking, harder fouls, less protection from the refs, commercial flights, flimsy sneakers, or any of the other immeasurable differences in the NBA of yore. Except, how much is an accurate barometer of the differences in today’s players and how much is it just grandstanding because every past generation thinks they had it tougher? In my day we trudged seven miles through the snow to get to school…ad infinitum.
Yes, Oakley was an assistant coach on the worst team ever, but was that experience a good representation of today’s game, or just one historically crummy team that lulled him into a false sense of the differences in the game?
Today’s NBA is more wide-open than it was even as recent as 10 years ago — when Oakley retired. There’s more of an emphasis on the three-point shot, and some feel the AAU marathon high school players endure has short-circuited basic basketball fundamentals. In some regards we agree, but to claim today’s NBA player is somehow lacking the heart or mental fortitude to survive in the Association a decade ago sells today’s players very short.
Does Chris Paul not want to win as much as players in the past? Does Russell Westbrook have heart? Are the Spurs somehow lacking in ability? Yes, Oakley says the same teams are in the Finals every year, but the Lakers and Bulls are the most recent examples of a three-peat, and both happened during Oakley’s tenure in the Association.
Oakley, or any other former NBA player, is certainly entitled to their opinion, but I’m not sure whether any of us should pay it much mind.
Then again, Oakley probably thought our handshake was a bit too effete for his OG grip.